The consolations were stacked up like crosstown traffic for the Spokane Chiefs on Friday night.
Assistant coaches Rikard Gronborg and Kevin Sawyer, filling in as head coach Al Conroy served a one-game Western Hockey League suspension, are still undefeated, at least, as the men in charge.
The Chiefs, who had lost their last eight meetings with Kelowna, put an end to that embarrassing streak.
And by game’s end they were the best team on the ice.
But the Chiefs will rue a missed chance that was as fat as they come, coming away with a 2-2 tie against the defending Memorial Cup champions at the Spokane Arena despite a 4 on 3 power play over the final 2 minutes of overtime.
Unlike Wednesday night when another 2-2 tie against Prince George was salvaged with two third-period goals, the Chiefs actually led this one 2-1 until Kelowna’s Tyler Mosienko bunted a rebound into an open right side of the net after Spokane goalie Kevin Opsahl had denied Blake Comeau 4 minutes into the third.
But just like Wednesday, the Chiefs (7-12-3-1, 18 points) dominated the third period – surely a trend they’d love to continue on a six-game road trip that begins tonight at Tri-City.
“Something you can control is effort,” said Gronborg, “and for what happened, I think we were definitely the best team in the third period – even though they were the team that scored the goal. We created a lot more than they did and that carried over into the overtime.
“It was disappointing not to get the bounce on the power play, yeah, but that’s part of the game.”
Spokane’s big opportunity came with 2:12 left in the extra period, when Kelowna’s Brett Palin was whistled for interference on Spokane center Derek Ryan. If it didn’t seem like that great of a deal – the Chiefs were dreadful on the power play all night, struggling to get so much as a shot off – the 4-on-3 aspect of overtime and the effort Spokane had ratcheted up in the third period implied better results.
But Kelowna goalie Derek Yeomans stopped all six shots the Chiefs managed to get off, including a couple of hard slaps by Joe Logan, and the Rockets (16-6-4-0, 36 points) stretched their unbeaten string to nine games.
“It’s a desperate situation,” acknowledged Kelowna coach Jeff Truitt. “You’ve got to work hard to stave off a 4-on-3, but at that time you’re not looking to go on the offensive at all and you just have to dig down a little bit.”
The difference in this game was the goaltending – by Yeomans late (in the heart of the third period Spokane outshot Kelowna 11-1) and by Opsahl in the middle of the game.
The Rockets had jumped ahead 1-0 just 3:16 into the game on a long blast by Shea Weber, the West’s top-scoring defenseman. But from then until the tying goal, Opsahl was nothing short of incredible, with 32 saves on the night – including one in which he actually did stand on his head.
This was early in the second period – the Rockets on a 4-on-3 after Chad Klassen had been whistled off for slashing and the teams had incurred matching minors for roughing. Opsahl had made one save with his left pad and seen a defenseman deflect another shot back onto the stick of Weber, who wound up again.
By this time, Opsahl was virtually flat on his back – but managed to roll and fling his glove skyward enough to knock away a sure goal.
“I never took my eye off the puck,” he said. “It was a desperation save – sometimes you get them and sometimes you don’t, and in that case I was fortunate.”
After allowing that early goal, the Chiefs really didn’t take that much time to recover – Ryan intercepting a Kelowna pass out by the blue line, pivoting and finding a streaking Klassen coming in on Yeomans’ left side at the 8:45 mark
The go-ahead goal came midway through the second period, when Chris Bruton hit Michael Grabner streaking down the middle – Grabner’s poke skittering past Yeomans and the goal line just before the net was knocked off its posts.
If Spokane struggled on the power play, it put Kelowna through the same pain. The Rockets are the WHL’s No. 2 team with a man advantage, but they were 0-4 this night and Opsahl said he “faced maybe only four or five shots on the power play.”
Klassen said climbing aboard the bus for the Chiefs’ extended trip – from Tri-City they make their swing through Saskatchewan and Manitoba – will be easier because of how the team closed the past two games.
“In the past, we haven’t had the greatest third periods,” he said, “and we talked about having a better effort and putting them away. We didn’t score on the chances we had, unfortunately, and we didn’t get the two points, but we’ll take one any day against this team.
“I think we did all the little things tonight – the stuff we’d done at the beginning of the year and kind of got away from the last couple of weeks. We kind of got back on track and hopefully that will continue through the road trip.”
Rockets 2, Chiefs 2 (OT)
First period–1, Kelowna, Weber 7 (Spurgeon, Keller), 3:16. 2, Spokane, Klassen 9 (Ryan), 8:45. Key penalties–Desautels, Spo (elbowing) 4:05; Bodie, Kel (tripping) 14:05; Desautels, Spo (roughing) 17:02. Second period–3, Spokane, Grabner 3 (Bruton), 10:40. Key penalties–Klassen, Spo (slashing) 1:21; Keller, Kel (slashing) 5:03; Keller, Kel (hooking) 7:32; McCue, Spo (tripping) 12:46. Third period–4, Kelowna, Mosienko 7 (Comeau), 3:57. Key penalties–Card, Kel (obstruction-hooking) 7:31. Overtime–No scoring. Key penalties–Palin, Kel (interference) 2:48.
Power-play opp.–Kelowna 0 of 4; Spokane 0 of 5. Saves–Kelowna, Yeomans 7-8-13-6–34. Spokane, Opsahl 13-13-6-0–32. A–5,621.