Kelowna Rockets end abbreviated WHL season with hard fought 3-2 win over Victoria

Rockets close out on a win

The WHL's abbreviated BC Division season concluded where, and how it started Wednesday night - at Prospera Place with the Kelowna Rockets victorious over the Victoria Royals.

In between, as the COVID-19 virus hit the team, the Rockets were sent into the uncertainty of a 17-day quarantine.

Since that pause in all team activities, the Rockets emerged winning nine of their 14 games to finish second in the BC Division behind Kamloops with a .656 points-per-game percentage.

Head coach Kris Mallette said after the game, he took a moment to tell the players how proud he was of them and the way they carried themselves through a difficult two months.

"I wanted to make sure they knew that given the circumstances of what went on with our group and the adversity we all faced, I don't think anybody would have envisioned us 10-5-1-0 in that stretch," said Mallette.

"I just wanted to let them know that they did everything that was asked of them. We had some highs, we had some lows, but they came to the rink every day ready to work with a smile on their face."

The Rockets jumped on the Royals early when Alex Swetlikoff notched his sixth of the campaign. A Victoria defenceman slapped at the puck as Swetlikoff was cutting hard to the net off the right wing.

The puck seemed to bounce off Swetlikoff and shoot up into the air over Adam Evanoff's right shoulder and into the net.

It took a few moments before anyone realized the puck had actually settled into the back of the net. Defenceman Jackson DeSouza, playing just his fourth game, picked up his first WHL point on the play.

In a season full of firsts, defenceman Noah Dorey notched his first career goal 10 minutes later with a wrist shot from the high slot off a draw in the Victoria end.

"He was feeling it tonight. He was a little high-risk at times, but he seemed to have the puck on a string at times," said Mallette of Dorey.

"And Jackson DeSouza i think has played only three or four games for us, but he's a big kid, skates very well. I think he could be something pretty good. He played really strong tonight.

After the Royals cut into the lead, veteran defenceman Jake Lee, who had a knack for timely goals over the abbreviated season re-established the two-goal lead with a spectacular individual effort, beating a defenceman off the left point, and sniping a wrist shot high to the short side from the bottom of the left circle.

"I got around the guy, I saw the top corner was open, so I shut my eyes and shot the puck," said Lee.

Lee, who had a career high five goals in 60 games last season, scored three times in just 16 games over the past two months.

"I really wanted to elevate my game on both sides of the ice, but offensively I wanted to produce a little more and contribute a little more on that side. I think I did well."

Lee and Tyson Feist both finished tied for the team lead in defenceman scoring with 10 points.

The Royals did make it interesting down the stretch, pulling to within one in the final minute, but the Rockets were able to run out the clock and preserve the win.

Roman Basran made several key saves, blocking 28 shots in the victory.

Wednesday's game also marked the end of the line for Sean Comrie, Dillon Hamaliuk and David Kope who all played their final Western Hockey League game.

The players head home Thursday in hopes of being able to return to a more normal season in September.

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