Rockets blast off to round 2
In the absence of Myles Bell fellow 20-year-old Marek Tvrdon stepped up to lead the Kelowna Rockets into the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs.
Bell was injured during a second period collision with Americans forward Beau McCue during game four Wednesday.
Tvrdon scored twice, his third and fourth of the series and was dangerous every time he touched the puck leading the Rockets past the pesky Tri-City Americans 4-1 Friday before nearly 5,000 noisy fans at Prospera Place.
"This was his best game - he seemed like he was engaged all night," Rockets coach Ryan Huska said of Tvrdon.
"When you look at your older players you need that from him and tonight we saw that. I thought he was, if not our best player, one of them for sure. Him and Jordon (Cooke), our 20-year-olds were our best guys on the ice."
For his part Tvrdon says he didn't feel extra pressure to step up in the absence of Bell.
"I try to do my best and give what I have but everybody has to step up," said Tvrdon.
"He got big goals for us but he's injured. Everybody has to step up and play together like a team."
Tvrdon was just happy to get the win to close out the series.
"It's a big game for us and all the guys. It's a huge win, we win the first series now we're off to the second."
The Rockets opened the scoring seven minutes into the game. Cole Linaker drove his defenceman wide and, from behind the goal line sent a backhand pass to Carter Rigby who snapped home his first of the playoffs.
Tvrdon doubled the lead 13 minutes into the second. The 20-year-old Slovak did all the work along the right boards, gained control of the puck, beat one defender and slid a perfect pass to Rourke Chartier at the edge of the right circle.
Chartier's shot grazed the outside of the post, hit the backboards and caromed right to Tvrdon who one-timed a shot past Eric Comrie from a sharp angle.
The Ams got that one back on a late second period power-play but Jordon Cooke shut the door the rest of the way.
Cooke preserved the lead with three spectacular saves in the third, his best, a quick glove hand grab off the stick of Lucas Nickles.
"I think that was just luck," understated Cooke.
"I don't know if it was hitting the net or not but I just put my hand out and put it away."
Tvrdon took some of the pressure off Cooke and the Rockets with a highlight reel goal 13 minutes into the final frame on a Kelowna power-play.
As with his first, Tvrdon did all the work along the wall, digging a puck out of a Tri-City defenders skates.
He slipped past one defender the deked Nickles in the circle before backhanding a shot high over the glove of Comrie from about 20 feet out.
Rourke Chartier converted a nice pass from Nick Merkley off a Tri-City turn over to close out the scoring a minute later.
Huska says it was a tough series from start to finish.
"It was a tough series I can say that. I think it was good that we were pushed and tested the way we were," said Huska.
"None of the games were easy games by any stretch of the imagination. I thought our best game was game two here but there were spurts of this game, especially early on where I really liked the way we played again."
The Rockets get a few days off before beginning preparations for their quarter-final series against either the Everett Silvertips or Seattle Thunderbirds.
Everett forced a game five Friday with a 6-1 win over Seattle. The T-Birds lead that series 3-1 with game five Saturday in Seattle.
"Hopefully we'll find out sooner than later who we will be playing but a couple of days rest now is going to be good," said Huska
"You do get your scuffs, your bumps and bruises over the course of a series."
The Rockets should also know the status of Bell sometime next week.
Bell, the Rockets leading scorer over the course of the regular season, suffered a lower body injury when he collided with Tri-City forward Beau McCue during the second period of Wednesday's fourth game.
"We're going to continue to evaluate him daily and hopefully we'll have some more info early next week," says Huska.
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