Portland get the win in OT in a 6-5 win over the Kelowna Rockets Saturday

Jittery Rockets fall in OT

Chalk this one up to a case of opening night jitters.

Whatever could go wrong did for Kelowna Rockets during a nervy opening 20 minutes in their kickoff to the 2023-2024 season Saturday against the visiting Portland Winterhawks.

Untimely penalties, costly giveaways and sloppy play behind their blueline led to four Portland goals and a 4-2 deficit after 20 minutes.

They were able to battle back and had a chance to win it, only to fall 6-5 in overtime.

"You've got a rookie goaltender in there, you have a real young back end and some guys up front chomping at the bit to get after it...we took some ill advised penalties and got off to a start we didn't really want," said Rockets head coach Kris Mallette.

"But, a real good second period and something we really weren't able to do last year, win a bunch of second periods. We came out of that with confidence so, it was a good first start."

The Rockets battled back in the second, getting goals less than two-and-a-half minutes apart from Ethan Neutens on a power play and Turner McMillen's second of the night to tie it.

Trae Johnson gave the Rockets their first lead since early in the first when Kayden Longley's centering pass from the left wing deflected off his skate and past Luke Brunen in the Portland net.

After a brief review, the goal was allowed to stand.

The lead lasted all of 2:45. Nick Johnson buried his second when he spun and send a shot from the bottom of the left circle that seemed to surprise Rocket starter Jake Pilon.

Marcus Nguyen beat Pilon to the five-hole on a breakaway in overtime to seal it.

The goal came seconds after Pilon attempted to hit Tij Iginla with a breakaway pass during three-on-three overtime. However, Iginla was gassed after a long shift, allowing the Winterhawks to go back the other way and end it.

Iginla, acquired during the off season scored the game's opening goal when he cut through the crease and tucked the puck inside the far post. Every time he touched the puck, the buzz in the arena grew in anticipation of something good happening.

"He's a good player, he just has to learn to use his teammates out there and that will come in time.

"We all want to be a hero and I addressed our group and said we are not defined by one player. When (Andrew Cristall) comes back, we are not defined by one player, we are a group, a team.

"But Tij has ability to change a game and he just wants it so bad."

McMillen, one of three 20-year-olds on the team, scored twice and added an assist while playing on a line with Neutens and new acquisition Michael Cicek.

The Rockets were without goaltender Jari Kykkanen, defenceman Jackson Desouza and forward Andrew Cristall who are all at NHL training camps. Defenceman Caden Price and forward Marcus Pacheco are out with lower body injuries.

The Rockets are now off until next weekend when the Wenatchee Wild make their first ever trip into Prospera Place.

The Franchise began playing in Wenatchee this season after relocating from Winnipeg.

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