Kelowna Rockets lost a game, and two more bodies to injury

Turnovers undo Rockets

The Kelowna Rockets may have lost more than just an important divisional match up Wednesday night.

The services of two key forwards are in doubt following a disappointing 3-2 loss at the hands of the visiting Victoria Royals.

Kyle Topping left with an undetermined injury after a thunderous check in the neutral zone late in the first period.

Trevor Wong was helped off the ice after a violent knee-on-knee collision near the Victoria blue line late in the game. Wong left without putting any pressure on his left leg.

Royals defenceman Jacob Herauf delivered both neutral-zone hits. He was handed a major penalty for kneeing and a game misconduct for the hit on Wong.

"They were hard physical plays. The first one with Kyle...the defenceman just stepped up in the neutral zone. It was a heavy, hard hit nothing wrong with it," said head coach Kris Mallette.

"Trevor was coming again through the neutral zone where he tries to jump out of the way...that's an unfortunate one. You're already committed to the hit, and there's not a whole bunch you can do at that point."

The Royals came back Wednesday with a pair of unanswered goals in the third period, as the Rockets lost in regulation for the first time this season when leading after 40 minutes.

"I think we did it to ourselves. We had some success and we just got away from it," said Mallette.

"We had a game plan going in tonight, and in spurts you saw our team successful doing it. Then we just started forcing plays and turning pucks over, and it came back at us.

"They are a team that works extremely hard, and through the neutral zone they just ate us up. They just kept coming in waves, and we were unfortunately watching a lot of the time."

After a scoreless first, Gary Haden got the Royals on the board with as bizarre a goal as you'll see. He grabbed a loose puck behind the Kelowna net, and just threw it toward the front. It deflected off Devin Steffler then Roman Basran.

Ethan Ernst, replacing Topping on the Rockets second line, tied it moments later. Pavel Novak won the race for a puck behind the Victoria net and found Ernst in front who beat Adam Evanoff from close range.

Matthew Wedman gave the Rockets the lead with a hard wrist shot from the high slot midway through the second.

Tarun Fizer tied it 22 seconds into the third, then Brayden Tracey won it when he banked the puck off Basran and in from behind the goal line.

The Rockets had a great chance to tie it late. They had a two-man advantage for the final 1:28 and, with Basran on the bench for an extra attacker, had a six-on-three.

But, they were unable to get a clean look.

"I think this one is going to sting for a bit," said forward Mark Liwiski.

"It was a four-point game like we said coming in. I felt we had a slow start, and the second period we came on a bit. Third period, they had a quick first goal and just built up momentum.

The Rockets will have to quickly put this one behind them and get ready for back-to-back games with the Kamloops Blazers, the team they will more than likely meet in the opening round of the playoffs.

This will be the first meeting between the two teams since that slugfest at Prospera Place back on Jan.11.

More than 200 minutes of penalties were handed out as numerous fights broke out over the last five minutes of that game, which included a brawl at 17:46 which included almost everyone on the ice.

"It was a big deal," said Liwiski of that game. "Obviously I'm not shying away from physicality, and I don't think the rest of the guys are.

"I feel if we bring it to them, they're going to answer, and if they bring it to us, we're going to answer. We're going to ramp up our play, and do whatever it takes to win."

The two teams play in Kamloops Friday night before the return engagement Saturday in Kelowna.

The Rockets did get some good news Wednesday as forward Nolan Foote skated during an optional team practice.

Foote returned from New Jersey earlier in the week where he was being monitored by the Devils training staff for a lower body injury that has kept him out of the lineup since the world junior tournament.

His status is still unknown. Foote remains listed as week-to-week.

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