Kole Lind was frustrated coming into Saturday night in Kelowna. The Rockets' leading scorer had yet to find twine in the 2017 calendar year. He had 20 goals through December, 27th but had yet to score in 10 games since. That by itself would not be too worrisome, but Lind ran into similar difficulty this time of year last season. He scored 14 times by January 2nd, but failed to score in his final 30 games. He also failed to register a point in 16 playoff games. So with that history, he had to be gripping his stick a little harder as January wore on. He can breathe easy now though as he broke through in a big way, registering two goals and two assists for four points. He was in on every Kelowna goal as the Rockets took down the Winterhawks in a tighter affair than the final score will tell. Portland falls to 0-2-0-2 on their four game B.C. trip and have dropped five contests in a row.The Hawks fall to the Kelowna Rockets tonight 4-1. Tonight's game at a glance presented by @Toyota. Back home Tuesday vs. Kamloops! pic.twitter.com/34YJSSlQXG— Portland Winterhawks (@pdxwinterhawks) January 22, 2017
Lind got things started for the Rockets as a turnover led to Lind coming off the corner boards and backhanding a shot to Portland goalie Cole Kehler's glove. Kehler failed to catch the puck with it deflecting into the air and behind him. Tomas Soustal was first to the puck as he poked it just inside the post for the 1-0 lead. Portland has not gone away the whole B.C. trip and they didn't on Saturday either. On the power play, Joachim Blichfeld spun away from Lind and found some room in the low slot. He then wired a shot over Kelowna goalie Michael Herringer's glove and into the top corner. Alex Overhardt provided a screen in front on the tying goal.
Kelowna scored the eventual game winner on another strange play. Overhardt failed to corral a loose puck to the side of Portland's net and Lind took a whack at the puck with his backhand. The puck rolled up on Kehler's shoulder and fell behind him into the net.
The Rockets extended their lead to 3-1 on a brilliant skating play by Lind and an even better finish. On the power play, Lind faked going outside on Keoni Texeira and then blew by him to the inside, beating Kehler on the near post for his second of the night. Portland had their chances as they tried to cut into the lead. Texeira found Cody Glass on a rush up the ice and the Hawks' leading scorer fired one off the cross bar. Later Brad Ginnell had a gaping net and the puck lying right in front of him, but he had his stick tied up. He smartly kicked at the loose puck and Herringer had to dive over to make a save with his stick just in time. As the puck was outside the crease it would have counted. Kelowna put the game away as Braydyn Chizen's slap shot from the point deflected off of a blocking Brad Ginnell and between Kehler's legs.
Kehler has not been himself since 2017 began. The stats may not totally reflect this but he has been allowing a lot of goals that we have become accustomed to him making easy saves on. There's an argument to be made that he shoudl have stopped very goal he gave up on this night. He stopped a total of 33 of 37 shots in the loss. Michael Herringer has also had an up and down season but this night was a definite incline. He turned away 34 of 35 shots to get his first win since January 13th.
Portland was one-for-five on the power play while Kelowna was two-for-six.
-Reid Gardiner was out for his second straight game. His collision with teammate Calvin Thurkauf near the Rocket bench in Everett on Monday appeared to give him a concussion. Dillon Dube was also out for Kelowna with an illness.
-Cole Kehler got his second assist of the season on Blichfeld's goal.
-With Shane Farkas still out with an illness, Ethan Middendorf was called up to back up Kehler. Middendorf had been playing Junior B hockey with the Vancouver Rangers in Vancouver, Washington. He sported a 2.90 GAA and 0.930 save percentage with the 14-17-5 Rangers. He is coming off of three straight starts with 40 or more saves, including a 40-save shut out.
-The modus operandi for the Winterhawks recently has involved skating hard at the opponent's net. Twice on Saturday night they made hard contact with Michael Herringer. The second time, Herringer took exception and threw a blow with his blocker at Cody Glass. This earned him a two-minute minor. Herringer also was on the rough end of another collision but it was from Rockets' captain Rodney Southam who was back checking.
-Spokane took down Kootenay 5-2 Saturday meaning that they are just two points behind Portland now for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Chiefs have a chance to move into a tie with a win Sunday afternoon in Everett.
-Kelowna has taken all three games so far of the four game set with Portland. They will play their last game next Saturday.
-Caleb Jones had an assist and it was his first point since January 13th. He was pointless in the three games since.
-Portland next plays on Tuesday vs. Everett at the VMC as they make up the game that was snowed out a few weeks ago.