Three goals in both the second and third periods carried the Calgary Hitmen to a 6-2 triumph over the Kelowna Rockets on Sunday evening at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Fresh of a win on Saturday night against Regina, Calgary improves their record to 23-7-1-3 and remains first in the Eastern Conference.
“I thought we turned the puck over a little bit too much in the first period and Driedger was very solid for us. In the second we played well, didn’t give up a lot, but there was still some odd man rushes that didn’t materialize,” explained Calgary bench boss Mike Williamson. “There are some things we can definitely be better on but for the most part we had some good effort from guys who haven’t played a lot and it was a great opportunity for them.”
“After any win we are going to be excited,” said Hitmen captain Cody Sylvester. “The guys battled hard tonight and we played hard for 60 minutes so that was key for us.”
The Rockets came into Sunday’s meeting playing their third game in as many nights. Kelowna managed to win both of their games prior to their match in Calgary, knocking off Medicine Hat on Friday before defeating Red Deer on Saturday night. The Rockets, who had won six straight, knocked-off the Hitmen 4-1 in their last visit to Calgary earlier this season.
Despite being the more fatigued team, Kelowna came out of the gates strong, holding a 13-6 shot advantage in a scoreless opening frame.
A mere 14 seconds into the second stanza, the Hitmen opened the scoring. Brooks Macek had his attempted pass to Brady Brassart go off the skate of a Kelowna player and past goaltender Jackson Whistle for his 14th of the year.
Kelowna had a great opportunity to knot the score while on a five-on-three power play, but it was Calgary who extended their advantage at 3:57. With only three Hitmen on the ice, Jaynen Rissling collected the puck in his own end and carried it up the ice. Rissling found Sylvester coming up the middle where he would skate past a defender to beat Whistle five-hole. The goal was Sylvester’s 20th of the campaign.
“That’s massive for any team. You’re killing a 5-on-3, you’re worried about getting scored on and there Sly goes on a breakaway. The momentum was completely in our favour after that, it was a huge goal,” mentioned Macek when discussing his side’s shorthanded tally.
After falling awkwardly halfway through the second, Whistle played through the pain and continued until the end of the period. Left alone in the slot, Macek scored his 15th of the season as he got a shot past the limbering goaltender.
“We were getting pucks to the net. We knew their starting goalie was injured and in the first nothing really went in, we didn’t get that many shots,” explained Macek. “We opened the second with a quick goal and the flood gates opened.”
Calgary native and 15 year-old affiliated player Jake Morrissey took over between the pipes in the final frame and would be tested early in his Western Hockey League debut. On the second shot Morrissey faced, Elliott Peterson came out from the side and pocketed a shot behind the young goaltender for his second of the season.
At 8:18 of the third, Kelowna netted their first goal of the evening. Jesse Lees was set-up by Zach Franko for a one-timed slap shot which got behind Chris Driedger for his third of the year.
The Hitmen responded for goals at 13:02 and less than two minutes later at 15:01 to break the score open. Brady Brassart picked up his ninth with a shot in front of the blue paint while on the power play. After delivering a hit, Jake Virtanen was dished the puck from Macek and shovelled it past Morrissey for his sixth of the campaign, making it 6-1.
Madison Bowey would record his eighth goal of the year as Kelowna drove to the net on the power play with less than three minutes to play. Bowey’s marker would round out the scoring though as the Hitmen notched their second win in as many days, moving into third-place overall in the WHL standings atop of the Rockets.
Calgary received a second straight night of strong goaltending as Driedger stopped 22 of 24 shots faced. Driedger’s performance follows up a shutout on Saturday from rookie Mack Shields.
“We have a lot of confidence in both guys. Mack’s played extremely well when he’s had the opportunity and Chris has showed consistency he was looking for coming into the season,” offered Williamson on his team’s goaltending.
On Tuesday night, the Hitmen will be back on the ice at Scotiabank Saddledome as they host the Edmonton Oil Kings, with a 7 p.m. puck drop. Tickets for upcoming Hitmen games are available at all Ticketmaster locations as well as the Scotiabank Saddledome box office. Order online at www.ticketmaster.ca or by phone at 1-855-985-5000. For more information on tickets, including the Sunday Ticket Pack and Name Your Game Flex Package, contact customer service at 403-777-4646.