By DOYLE POTENTEAU
Kelowna Daily Courier
KELOWNA — Zach Franko is proving to be money in the shootout bank for the Kelowna Rockets.
Franko scored the game-winning goal in the shootout as the
Rockets doused the red-hot Kamloops Blazers 3-2 in WHL action on Wednesday night. The Blazers entered the game riding a nine-game winning streak, but failed to hold a pair of one-goal leads.
Franko, meanwhile, scored his seventh consecutive shootout goal, and is 7-for-8 this season. Franko also netted the winner in Kelowna’s last game, a 4-3 shootout victory over Vancouver on Saturday. In both games, he was Kelowna’s first shooter, and twice gave the Rockets early 1-0 leads.
Against Kamloops, as they were against Vancouver, the Rockets were 2-for-2 in the shootout, with Myles Bell again converting, while the Blazers were 0-for-2.
“It feels good that I can contribute any way that I can,” said Franko. “Right now, it’s the shootout. I got a couple (shootout goals) early on in the year and my confidence started building. I’ve been working on it in practice, and that’s really key. I’m trying new moves and getting my confidence up in practice really works (in games). Just keep shooting; that’s my two cents’ worth.”
Goaltender Adam brown, who made 23 saves, said it’s invaluable to have Franko’s clutch performance right now as the Rockets
try to right their up-and-down season.
“He’s got a great shot and he’s money in the shootout,” Brown said. “It’s huge when you know someone is going to go out there and score, and all you have to do is (stop) two of three (opposing shooters) or one of two. It’s a huge confidence boost, because all you have to make is one save and we’re good to go.”
Shane McColgan, with his 13th goal of the season, and Brett Bulmer, with his 20th, scored in regulation time for Kelowna (21-23-2-3), which is 1-3 in its eight-game season series against its nearest geographical rival.
Brendan Ranford, with his team-leading 25th goal of the season, and Austin Madaisky scored in regulation time for Kamloops (34-10-1-3), which, after a scoreless first period, led 2-1 after 40 minutes. Ranford opened the scoring, then Madaisky made it 2-1 late in the second with a power-play goal. Cole Cheveldave made 34 stops for the Blazers.
From a Kelowna standpoint, standing up to the B.C. Division-leading Blazers instead of getting steamrolled was just as important, if not moreso, than the victory.
“I liked the way we played,” said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska. “I thought we had a good game where we limited a lot of their offensive opportunities so, defensively, we were pretty good. We had compete from our forwards for the most part, moving themselves up the ice. So, yes, I was happy with our game.”
His counterpart, understandably, wasn’t pleased with the result.
“Our first period was fine,” said Blazers head coach Guy Charron. “But we didn’t play that well in the second period, and, fortunately for us, we didn’t have a big deficit. We found a way to get a lead, but we didn’t sustain the effort that we needed to have to be successful. Credit to Kelowna because they did the things that we were hoping to do a little bit more to their defence. They played the puck deep, they worked our defence.
“Our core group for us did their job tonight. Unfortunately, we had
passengers up front, and when you do that and play a team like Kelowna, you’re liable to get yourself in trouble.”
Bailing out the Blazers was Cheveldave, who was well deserving of the third star. The loss pushed his record to 25-5-4.
“He’s excellent,” said Charron. “He’s a very dynamic young man and he plays with a lot of confidence. We’re very fortunate to have a young goaltender like him with the season he’s having.”
Ranford made it 1-0 just 57 seconds into the second period with a great individual effort. After taking a pass near the timekeeper’s box, Ranford circled back, then zipped into Kelowna’s zone on a 1-on-2 rush. There, he slipped the puck through Rockets defenceman Mackenzie Johnston, then went wide around him, regained control of the puck and, from the right faceoff circle, picked the far corner, beating Brown high-blocker side for his 25th goal of the season.
The goal stunned Kelowna’s crowd, though it wouldn’t stay silent for long.
Just two minutes later, McColgan levelled the score with an in-close
one-timer at 3:29. Defenceman Damon Severson spotted an open McColgan to the right of Cheveldave, then fed him a slap pass from the blue-line that his teammate converted, going top shelf.
Madaisky restored Kamloops’ lead at 15:37 with a power-play goal from the right blue-line boards. With Colin Smith as a partial screen, Madaisky put a simple wrist shot on net that squeezed inside the
near post. The goal came just 14 seconds into Carter Rigby’s penalty for cross-checking.
In the third, the Rockets made it 2-2 when Bulmer slapped home a loose puck from the left side. The goal, scored at 11:10, came after Bulmer put together a near coast-to-coast rush that eventually resulted in a McColgan rebound popping out near the left half-wall.
Rockets defenceman Mitchell Chapman almost ended the game late in the third, with a slapshot from the right blue-line boards, but his shot clanged off the far post and the buzzer sounded just a second later.
In overtime, nothing was solved, with both teams clamming up defensively and surrendering just one shot each.
In the shootout, Franko snapped home a quick wrist shot, while Bell went five-hole. At the other end, Madaisky had a slapshot stopped by Brown, while Ranford lost the handle on the puck and could only watch as the puck skittered away and into the left corner.
(Thanks to Doyle Potenteau of the Kelowna Daily Courier for permission to post his game lead here.)