Cowabunga dude, that was a wild ride.
On a night when the Rockets rocked Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle themed jerseys they took this one from the depths of the sewers to the icy battlefield of Prospera Place in a heavyweight tilt for the ages.
When the dust settled the Western Conference-leading Prince George Cougars skated away with a 6-5 shootout win over the Kelowna Rockets.
Ondrej Becher scored the only goal of the shootout for the Cougars.
It was a resilient performance for a Rockets team who battled back from 3-1 and 4-2 deficits, only to give up a late power play goal off a questionable hooking call.
But, as they did all night long, the Rockets battled back less than a minute later when Hiroki Gojsic snapped home his second of the night with a gorgeous toe drag and snap shot over the outstretched glove of Joshua Ravensbergen.
"I'm not hanging my head with that group at all. We were down a couple of times and found a way to battle back," said head coach Kris Mallette.
"It's unfortunate, they don't feel great in there but one point out of that considering 3-1, 4-2 and 5-4 with three minutes left to find a way. I'm real happy with the resiliency of that group."
Rockets led early
The Rockets led 1-0 after one when Tij Iginla raced onto a loose puck inside the Prince George blueline, cut to the slot and scored high stick side.
The Cougars vaunted power play took the game over early in the second. Hudson Thornton and Zach Funk with his first of three put the Cougars up by one with power play goals early in the second.
Funk made it 3-1 6:37 into the period but the Rockets battled back.
Iginla with his second and 40th of the season made it 3-2 and, after the Cougars extended the lead once again Max Graham buried a juicy rebound to again pull Kelowna to within a single goal heading into the final period.
Wild final period
Gojsic, who along with linemates Iginla and Michael Cicek combined for nine points, scored his first of two to tie it when he found a loose puck in the crease and knifed it past Ravensbergen.
Fireworks erupted late when Gabriel Szturc was sent off for that dubious hook leading to Funk's third of the game. The goal came when a backdoor pass to the left was deflected off a stick, hit something and caromed to Funk all alone at the side of the crease.
But it was Gojsic whose game has picked up since the new year who brought the Rocket back on even terms just 45 seconds later and send the game to overtime.
"He has played with a lot more confidence. He's a big power forward.
"He is a player that when things are going well for him, it's early and he's feeling it, he's going to be someone who is tough to handle. He's still a young player, a rookie in this league but today was a big step in the right direction."
The Rockets had the better of the chances in the five minute three-on-three overtime period.
Marek Rocak sent a screened shot Ravensbergen appeared to find at the last minute while Andrew Cristall lost the handle on a partial break off the left wing as he attempted to deke to his backhand.
Power play the difference
The Rockets were the better team five-on-five at least on the scoresheet, outscoring the Cougars 5-2. But it was the power play that made the difference.
The Cougars, second in the league in power play percentage coming into the game scored three times with the man advantage to up their league-leading goal total to 71.
"That's an elite power play over there," said Mallette.
"They can manipulate a PK with the best of them and it's tough when you get caught in those kinds of situations. We know we can hang with hose guys five-on-five and that's what I said to those guys five-on-five I had no issues with us playing."
The Rockets, who took three of four on the weekend are off until next weekend when they hiot the road for games with Vancouver Friday and Tri-City Saturday.
It was a case of deja vu for the Kamloops Blazers on Saturday night, dropping a second consecutive blowout loss to a divisional foe.
A third period surge wasn't enough to close the gap as Kamloops fell to the Giants 7-1 in Langley, despite putting up 20 shots to Vancouver's eight in the final frame.
Forward Tommy Lafreniere scored the Blazers' lone goal — his first of the season in just his second game — to tie the game early in the first period before the Giants tallied six unanswered goals to cruise to victory in front of 4,224 fans at the Langley Events Centre.
The home team Giants led 5-1 after 40 minutes, and had heroics from centre Cameron Schmidt who took home the first star of the game with a hat trick.
Vancouver's Brett Mirwald stopped 29 of 30 shots he faced, outplaying the Blazers Dylan Ernst who made 26 saves on 33 shots.
The power play wasn't much of a factor in the game despite the lopsided score with Vancouver going 1-3 and Kamloops 0-1.
With the loss, the Blazers fall to 18-33-3-2 on the season, and are one point up on the Seattle Thunderbirds for 11th and last place in the WHL’s Western Conference. The Giants currently sit sixth in the conference standings, now at 28-26-3-0 after Saturday's victory.
The Blazers are back in action on Sunday, when they take on those same Thunderbirds in a basement battle in Kent, Wash. Their next home game is on Feb. 28, when the Spokane Chiefs visit Sandman Centre.
Friday night at Prospera Place had the feel of a playoff game.
And why not. The Kelowna Rockets and Vancouver Giants came in separated by just four points in the Western Conference.
The bad blood between the two teams was evident throughout the game as liberties were taken, scores settled and names taken for future battles.
When the dust finally settled the Kelowna Rockets skated away with a 4-1 victory to climb to within two of the sixth place Giants.
"It's a team we've had some battles with throughout the year. We haven't seen them often but we're going to become real accustomed with them," said head coach Kris Mallette.
"I liked the push, I liked the animosity. It had as good feel to it and our guys were feeding off it."
The Rockets spotted the Giants a 1-0 lead during a sleepy, lacklustre opening period. The only goal of the period glanced off the skate of Connor Levis.
Samuel Honzak was denied by Jari Kykkanen on a breakaway but stuck with the rebound and threw the puck toward Levis at the front of the net. Officials took a look at the play to ensure Levis had not kicked the puck into the net.
The goal stood.
The Giants barely had a sniff the rest of the way.
The Rockets put this one away with a dominating second period in which they scored four times while holding the Giants without a shot the entire period.
Andrew Cristall netted a natural hat trick to give the Rockets a 3-1 lead before Luke Schelter closed out the scoring with a low wrister as the trailer on a three-on-two break.
For Cristall, goals 32, 33 and 34 accounted for his third career WHL hat trick and the first natural hat trick in memory.
His first two came with the Rockets enjoying a man advantage. He drove down Main Street on the first before making a pretty deke to the backhand.
The second was a low shot from the left circle that went post and in. The third, another wrist shot somehow squeezed through Brett Milwald in the Vancouver net.
It was a night when the power play was clicking and Cristall, who many times looks pass first, looked to shoot whenever the found his stick.
"I definitely wanted to come to the game and shoot a lot of pucks," said Cristall.
"Maybe the defences are thinking I'm going to pass so the shot is sometimes there and I thought I would take it."
The game degenerated into a series of scuffles and fights over the final minutes as the teams combined for 92 penalties in the third period including six misconducts as the officials tried to keep a lid on things.
The Rockets have now won four of five meetings between the two team with number six seven days from now at the Langley Events Centre.
Kelowna is two back of Vancouver and just seven behind both Victoria and Wenatchee with 11 games left to go.
The Rockets get back at it Saturday night when the Western Conference-leading Prince George Cougars come to town.
The Kamloops Blazers gave up three first-period goals Friday at Sandman Centre en route to a 5-1 loss to the Western Conference-leading Prince George Cougars.
Ashton Ferster scored the lone Kamloops goal. Ondrej Becher, Terik Parascak (2) and Borya Valis (2) scored for Prince George.
The Cougars led 1-0 late in the first when Parascak and Valis scored twice in the final three minutes to put the Cougars up 3-0. Ferster scored the only goal of the second and Prince George added two more in the third to make it 5-1.
Jesse Sanche made 34 saves on 39 shots in the Kamloops net. Ty Young stopped 31 of 32 Kamloops shots to earn the win for the Cougars.
Prince George scored twice on four power-play opportunities. The Blazers were scoreless on four chances.
Announced attendance at Sandman Centre was 4,411.
The loss moves the Blazers to 18-32-3-2 on the season, 10th out of 11 teams in the WHL’s Western Conference. The Cougars sit atop the conference standings, now 39-15-0-3 after Friday’s victory.
The Blazers are back in action on Saturday, when they take on the Vancouver Giants in Langley. Their next home game is on Feb. 28, when the Spokane Chiefs visit Sandman Centre.
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