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Rockets work extra time to beat Blazers

Southam's OT goal gives visitors victory
By Gregg Drinnan
November 18, 2015 10:23 P.M.

Let’s just call the Kelowna Rockets what they are . . . 20-game winners.
The Rockets scored a 4-3 overtime victory over the Kamloops Blazers in a WHL game at the Sandman Centre on Wednesday night.
It was the Rockets’ 20th victory against the Blazers over the last two-plus seasons. The guys from the Little Apple went 8-0-0 in 2013-14, then were 9-1-0 last season. This season, they already are 3-0-0. Do the math and the Rockets are 20-1-0 against the Blazers since the start of 2013-14.
But, on this occasion, the Blazers gave them all they could handle . . . well, except for that first period.
“Early in the game, we were a little tentative,” Kamloops head coach Don Hay said in something of an understatement. “You’re playing one of the top teams in your conference . . . I thought Connor Ingram was our best player.”
Fortunately — or, perhaps, unfortunately — Ingram is the Blazers’ goaltender.
“In the first period, he made four Grade A saves,” Hay said.
The Blazers escaped from that first period at 1-1 on a goal by left-winger Collin Shirley with 38.5 seconds showing on the clock.
Before that, though, the game belonged to Ingram, who was credited with nine saves but, as Hay pointed out, some of them were ding-dong dandies.
Just 30 seconds into the period, Ingram got his left shoulder on a labelled backhander off the stick of Kelowna right-winger Nick Merkley.
At 8:15, Ingram used his glove to commit grand larceny on a quick shot by centre Justin Kirkland.
At 8:56, it was Merkley again, this time stealing the puck from right-winger Jesse Zaharichuk in the neutral zone and wheeling in all alone, only to be stumped by Ingram’s left pad.
“He’s a good goalie,” Kelowna right-winger Tyson Baillie said. “We’ve seen him before and he’s a good goalie.”
The Rockets were able to beat the native of Imperial, Sask., once in the opening 20 minutes, as left-winger Tanner Wishnowski took a nifty pass from Rodney Southam and finished off a 2-on-1 break with his third goal this season.
Shirley tied it after a Kelowna turnover in its zone, using defenceman Joe Gatenby as a screen to beat Kelowna goaltender Jackson Whistle to the short side.
“I thought we came out hard,” Baillie said, “but that goal in the last minute kind of killed us. But I thought we played a good full 60 minutes. I think both teams did. It was a good hockey game. It was fast and we both had chances.”
After a scoreless second period, the teams combined for four third-period goals.
First, the Blazers took the lead when centre Garrett Pilon corralled a loose puck at the lip of the Kelowna crease and chipped it over Whistle. Pilon has six goals this season, with four of them coming in three games against Kelowna.
Kelowna left-winger Tomas Soustal put his guys back out front, 3-2, when Blazers defenceman Cam Reagan coughed up the puck to Baillie at the Rockets’ line. Baillie fed Soustal, who went in alone and beat Ingram with a quick shot to the glove side.
Soustal, who started the season with 11 points, including six goals, in his first seven games, had but two assists to show for his previous 12 games.
“He had a really good start then kind of cooled down,” Baillie said of his linemate. “Sometimes it happens that you get the cold hands, but he scored a huge goal for us tonight.”
It looked like the Rockets were going to take this one home in regulation time, especially after Whistle made a glorious save off a re-direction by right-winger Quinn Benjafield with 1:30 to play in the third period.
But, then, with time winding down, Shirley and Deven Sideroff, two of the Blazers’ most dangerous forwards, found themselves on a 2-on-1 deep in the Kelowna zone. A defender blocked Sideroff’s attempted pass but the puck came back to him and he was able to get it over to Shirley, who didn’t miss for his team-leading 14th goal at 19:33.
“I thought we got better as the game went on,” Hay said. “In the third period, we had a good period and we were able to come back and tie them and get the point.
“We’re disappointed we lost and for us to continue to grow we have to find ways to beat the top teams in the conference.”
They didn’t win this one because Southam, a 20-year-old from Saskatoon, took an OT pass from Baillie in the Kamloops zone and dipsy-doodled in to beat Ingram with a deke to the backhand at 1:47.
“I thought it was a really good hockey game,” Baillie said. “One team has to come out on top and I’m happy it was us.”
Baillie’s two assists left him with 251 career points, all with the Rockets. He is the fifth player in franchise history to earn at least 250 points.
“It means a lot,” the 20-year-old from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., said. “This is a tremendous organization and it was an honour to be drafted here and play here for five seasons. It’s been a blast.
“I have spent a quarter of my life here and it’s been the best time of my life. It goes by fast . . . in the blink of an eye.”
The teams went into the game as the hottest in the WHL, both having gone 8-1-1 in their last 10 outings.
Now, the Rockets are 15-5-1 — they are 6-0-1 in their last seven — and tied with the Victoria Royals (15-7-1) and Prince Albert Raiders (14-5-3) atop the overall standings.
The Blazers (9-8-2) are 6-0-2 in their last eight and tied with the Portland Winterhawks (10-9-0) for seventh in the Western Conference.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 4,020. . . . Ingram finished with 30 saves, two more than Whistle. . . . The Blazers were 0-for-3 on the power play, while not taking even one minor penalty themselves. . . . The Blazers had won their previous five home games. . . . Kelowna and Victoria lead the WHL in road victories, each with nine. . . . The Blazers scratched D Dallas Valentine, F Jake Kryski and F Matt Needham, all of whom were injured Sunday, and D Conner McDonald. . . . The Rockets were without D Riley Stadel (hand), F Rourke Charier (wrist), F Dillon Dube (eye) and D Jonathan Smart/D Braydyn Chizen. . . . The Blazers are at home to the Seattle Thunderbirds (13-6-1) on Friday and the Edmonton Oil Kings (8-12-3) on Saturday. Both games are to start at 7 p.m.
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