By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips want to be among the top teams in the WHL’s Western Conference this season.
Wednesday night showed the Tips aren’t there just yet.
The Kelowna Rockets taught the Tips a lesson in what it takes to be a contender, whacking Everett 6-3 at Comcast Arena to hand the Tips their first defeat this season.
Everett went undefeated during the preseason and opened the regular season with two convincing victories. But Wednesday night was the Tips’ first true test, as Kelowna is the defending B.C. Division champion and considered one of the favorites to claim the conference title.
The Tips didn’t exactly ace that test. Kelowna controlled the first period, taking a 3-0 lead. Then when the Tips looked like they might drag themselves back into it, the Rockets scored twice in less than a minute early in the third to put it away.
“I think Kelowna was a little better than us, especially in the first 10 minutes,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said.
“We felt tonight was another chance to kind of understand where we’re at against a team that was very good last year and certainly good the first four years I was here,” Constantine added. “I don’t think there’s any answers to anything yet. Tonight it looked like they’re a much better team, but I don’t know that you can reach that conclusion from one game. They were the better team tonight.
“The bottom line is we just have to come to the rink every day and work on our game and grow and get better.”
Madison Bowey and Nick Merkley each scored two goals to lead Kelowna (3-0-0-1). Bowey was a constant threat from the blue line during the first period, scoring on a pair of one-time bombs. Then Merkley put the game away in the third, scoring both of the killer goals that gave Kelowna a 6-2 advantage.
Damon Severson and Zach Franko scored the other goals for the Rockets. Jackson Whistle made 29 saves to earn the win in goal for Kelowna.
Jujhar Khaira, Matt Pufahl and Ivan Nikolishin scored for Everett (2-1-0-0). For Khaira and Nikolishin it was their first career WHL goals.
Daniel Cotton started in goal for Everett, but lasted just one period after allowing three goals on eight shots. Austin Lotz came on in relief and ended up being saddled with the loss, stopping 15 of 18 shots.
Everett showed some signs Wednesday of being closer to Kelowna’a level than last year, when the Rockets swept the four-game season series and outscored the Tips 20-6. Everett outshot Kelowna 32-26 and was dangerous on the power play, converting three of its five opportunities.
But the Rockets took full advantage when the Tips underwent a lull. Everett came out sluggish to open the game and Kelowna jumped out to the early lead, using big shots from the point to generate offense. Then after the Tips got back into it, the Rockets punished Everett for turning the puck over.
“Kelowna played well tonight, there’s no question about that,” Pufahl said. “We didn’t play our best, and I have no doubt in my mind we can compete with teams like Kelowna and the other good teams in the league. We just have to keep our work ethic up and we can’t have too many mistakes.”
The game seemed all but over 1:07 into the second period when Franko put in his own rebound to give Kelowna a 4-0 lead.
But the Tips used their power play to claw back into it. Khaira got the Tips on the board at 15:19 of the second when he backhanded the puck in following a goalmouth scramble. Then Pufahl beat Whistle clean with a one-timer from the point at 18:26 as the Tips crept back within two.
Everett came out strong to start the third, but was unable to get that crucial third to make it a one-goal game. Then Merkley put the game away. A tremendous solo effort, in which he tapped the puck around the defender and deked past Lotz, made it 5-2 at 4:49. Then just 57 seconds later he scored again as Tyson Baillie intercepted Kevin Davis’ outlet pass and set up Merkley on a two-on-one.
“If we had got the first goal of the the third I think it would have been a very interesting game in the third,” Constantine said. “But when they went 5-2, it was emotionally a little harder to climb back in at that point.”
With winger Reid Petryk traded to Edmonton on Tuesday, Everett no longer had to scratch one of its overagers. … Kelowna, on the other hand, still has four overagers, one more than the limit. Therefore, defenseman MacKenzie Johnston was the odd-man out Wednesday. … The Rockets also played without winger Carter Rigby and defenseman Mitchell Wheaton. Both are still recovering from shoulder surgery.
Rockets 6, Silvertips 3
First Period—1, Kelowna, Bowey 2, 3:44. 2, Kelowna, Bowey 3 (Lees, Goulbourne), 7:03 (pp). 3, Kelowna, Severson 1 (Linaker), 19:32. Penalties—Stadnyk, Everett (hooking), 5:58; Khaira, Everett (slashing), 10:32; Bell, Kelowna (boarding), 14:38.
Second Period—4, Kelowna, Franko 2 (Bowey), 1:07. 5, Everett, Khaira 1 (Pufahl, Nikolishin), 15:19 (pp). 6, Everett, Pufahl 1 (Winquist, Nikolishin), 18:26 (pp). Penalties—Winquist, Everett (tripping), 1:07; Severson, Kelowna (high sticking), 12:28; Kelowna bench (too many men, served by Franko), 14:50; Olsen, Kelowna (roughing), 14:50; Leedahl, Everett (roughing), 14:50; Bell, Kelowna (tripping), 16:52.
Third Period—7, Kelowna, Merkley 2 (Baillie), 4:49. 8, Kelowna, Merkley 3 (Baillie), 5:46. 9, Everett, Nikolishin 1 (Winquist, Aasman), 12:00 (pp). Penalties—Mueller, Everett (interference), 6:58; Merkley, Kelowna (hooking), 10:51; Juulsen, Everett (delay of game), 12:53; Bowey, Kelowna (roughing), 18:51; Khaira, Everett (roughing), 18:51.
Shots on goal—Kelowna 8-9-9—26. Everett 6-15-11—32. Power-play opportunities—Kelowna 1 of 5. Everett 3 of 5.
Goalies—Kelowna, Whistle 1-0-0-0 (32 shots, 29 saves). Everett, Cotton (8 shots, 5 saves), Lotz 1-1-0-0 (18 shots. 15 saves).
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.