Andrew Cristall scored twice in his return to the Kelowna Rockets lineup Saturday

Rockets take down T-Birds

It didn't take long for Kelowna Rockets fans to litter the ice at Prospera Place with more than a thousand stuffed animals Saturday night.

Max Graham scored just 2:07 into the game sparking a sea of stuffed animals from every corner of the rink during the team's annual Teddy Bear Toss game. Each animal will now go to brighten someone's day at Interior Health facilities across the Kelowna region.

Graham's goal was also the quickest on a Teddy Bear Toss night.

"It's definitely exciting. I didn't really think I would be the guy to score it. Just hoping someone did and it was nice to get it done early in the game," said Graham.

"I think in the back of everyone's head we all just wanted to get that out of the way quick. It's a big stoppage in the game...it's fun to be out there when it happens but the legs get cold when you're out there...so we were lucky to get it done quick."

The monumental goal was started by Andrew Cristall. His pass deflected straight to Graham who leaned into a heavy wrist shot that beat T-Bird netminder Scott Ratzlaff high to the blocker side.

Graham also helped set up Tij Iginla's 19th of the season three minutes later. Off the rush Graham fed Gabriel Szturc who spotted Iginla open on the left wing.

Iginla gloved the pass and wired a shot just inside the far post.

Seattle got one back as time expired when Simon Lovsin beat Jari Kykkanen on a breakaway with 0.3 seconds left in the period.

"I think the messaging was good from the players from within," said head coach Kris Mallette of the message in the dressing room after that last second goal.

"I didn't have to say a whole bunch because I wasn't too happy with the reaction to the hit and we got real loose.

"I felt we could have given them some momentum but they came out and threw everything they had at us but Jari was a brick wall and we got a little bit of momentum after that."

Cristall, returning to the lineup after missing the last three games worked to the left faceoff circle from the point and beat Ratzlaff to the far side.

After Seattle again pulled to within a goal on an early third period power play, it was Cristall who restored the two-goal edge moments later stealing a clearing pass and beating Ratzlaff with a quick shot.

Kykkanen shut the door the rest of the way as the T-Birds peppered him with 19 shots during the final 20 minutes in an attempt to get back in it.

Cristall, who also had an assist to go along with his two goals provided a spark for a team that had lost 10 of its last 11 games.

"The puck goes through him. He's a player that our players look for, he's a player that in the offensive zone is able to manipulate defenders, find open guys, and hold onto the puck," said Mallette.

"Each team has a couple of those guys and when he was out of our lineup the weight bears on a lot of our other guys to step up. He's real special and obviously scored some big goals for us."

It was an important win according to Graham, not just bouncing back into the win column but doing it against a team that shut them out just two nights earlier.

The Rockets will close out the pre-Christmas portion of their home schedule Wednesday when they entertain the Wenatchee Wild.

Then it's on the road for seven straight including their five-game Eastern Division road trip just to close out the unofficial end to the first half of the season.

More WHL articles