Well, the Tips now know the standard they have to play to if they want to be a contender in the Western Conference this season.
Kelowna is considered one of the favorites out west, and the Rockets showed why as they handed Everett its first loss of the season. The Tips came out sluggish at the start and Kelowna took full advantage, building a 4-0 lead 1:07 into the second period. All four of those goals came as a result of shots from the point, as the Rockets got theirs to the net while the Tips got theirs blocked.
Everett tried to get back into it, pulling within 4-2 by the end of the second and coming out strong to begin the third. But two goals in less than a minute by Nick Merkley early in the third killed it off.
The silver lining for Everett was the performance on the power play as the Tips went 3-for-5. All three goals were scored by the same unit, with Jujhar Khaira and Ivan Nikolishin both potting their first career WHL goals.
We may not see a bigger hit at Comcast Arena this season than the one Kelowna’s Kris Schmidli put on Tyler Sandhu in the third period. It was in the open ice and it was one I could practically feel up in the press area.
With Spokane also losing tonight, there are no undefeated teams remaining in the Western Conference.
Everett had the momentum early in the third and seemed likely to get within one when a great solo effort by the 16-year-old Merkley stemmed the tide. Merkley tapped the puck around the defender to free himself for a free run at goal, then put a great deke on Austin Lotz to make it 5-2 and take the wind out of Everett’s sails.
First star: Madison Bowey, Kelowna. Two goals and one assist, and those numbers don’t do justice to what a great all-around game he played from his defensive position. He finished a plus-5 and was worth every bit of it.
Second star: Merkley. Two goals, they came 57 second apart at the game’s critical juncture.
Third star: Nikolishin. One goal and two assists, combined moments of inspiration with moments of, shall we say, over-elaboration.
The Herald’s honorable mention: Tyrell Goulbourne, Kelowna. Two assists, was a constant pest with his hustle and physical play.