In late October, the Kelowna Rockets were slogging along with a 7-6-1-1 record and looked like an average team in the Western Hockey League.
A mid-November loss to the Tri-City Americans left the Rockets with a 12-8-1-1 mark with Thanksgiving coming up. Since then, the Rockets have feasted on WHL competition.
Friday night was no different as Winnipeg Jets draft selection Ryan Olsen scored his 22nd and 23rd goals of the season during Kelowna’s 4-2 victory over the Spokane Chiefs at the Arena.
The Rockets (33-10-2-1), who own the second-best record in the Western Conference behind the multitalented Portland Winterhawks, picked up their 21st win in their last 24 games.
“We have four lines that can really contribute out there,” said Olsen, a 6-foot-2 center from British Columbia who played for the Saskatoon Blades last season. “We have such great depth on our team and we come into every game thinking we can win.”
Kelowna owns a 19-2 home record and will vie for a franchise-record 19th consecutive home win tonight against Vancouver.
“Teams go through their ups and downs throughout the year,” said Olsen, who has 19 points in his last 15 games. “We had our downs at the start of the year, but then I think we realized that we can win every game we come into.”
Kelowna led 2-1 after the first period on goals by Jesse Lees, on a power play, and Olsen. Between those goals, Spokane’s Brenden Kichton improved his scoring streak to 10 games with his 15th goal of the season and his team-high 55th point.
The second period belonged to the Rockets as Olsen scored on a power play and MacKenzie Johnston made it 4-1 on a score that had to be reviewed.
“I thought we played all right in the first period,” said Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur. “We had a horrible second period. But, you know what, they’re a good team. Give them credit. We just looked like the boys against the men.”
Spokane changed the tone in the third period, outshooting Kelowna 19-4 and picking up Blake Gal’s eighth goal of the season 41 seconds in. But Spokane didn’t take advantage of three power plays during the period, including a short sequence in which it had a 5-on-3.
“Way too many guys on our team are underachieving right now and the bottom line is that our best guys haven’t done it for us,” Nachbaur said. “And I wouldn’t say that our young guys have picked up any of the slack.”
The Chiefs (28-16-1-0, 57 points) will host the Tri-City Americans (26-17-1-2, 55) tonight. Spokane is 4-2-1-0 against Tri-City this season.
The Americans will be without top goaltender Eric Comrie for the rest of the season. Tri-City announced Friday that Comrie will have minor hip surgery on Feb. 5.