(1090 The Fan) — All season the Kelowna Rockets have been the gold standard, the benchmark for play in the Western Hockey League. If Sunday’s game was any indication, Seattle can be placed at that lofty level as well.
Seattle (31-15-2-3) out-hustled and out-worked a Rockets team that has dominated their foes all season, winning 4-1 at the ShoWare Center. Roberts Lipsbergs had a goal and an assist and Shea Theodore provided another power-play goal to propel the Thunderbirds.
“That is probably the team to beat in the league. I mean their record speaks for itself,” Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “There’s still energy built up from the playoffs. I think our team has a confidence against them a little bit more than other teams because we played them in the playoffs…It just seems to be a good matchup for us.”
In support of that claim, Kelowna (40-7-0-2) entered Sunday’s game winners of 33 of its last 37 games. That would be considered dominant if they were curling against blind men.
The Rockets have engineered that success behind a balanced, largely mistake-free team with no real “superstar.” The team simply has allowed the fewest goals of any WHL team (117) and scored the second-most goals (210), trailing only Portland’s 216.
Meanwhile Seattle improved to 1-1-0-1 against the Rockets this season, a team that with the exception of Sunday’s result, it has gone to extra time with in five of the last six meetings. This one, though, was different.
Kelowna cracked the scoresheet first when forward Tyrell Goulbourne created a turnover in the Rockets’ zone and streaked down the ice for a short-handed goal at 18:26.
The Thunderbirds continued to fight, displaying the type of effort and smart hockey that has won them now nine of their last 10 hockey games coming into the Sunday showdown.
In the second period, the T-Birds scored on their fourth power-play opportunity when Roberts Lipsbergs deflected a Justin Hickman shot through the legs of Rockets’ goaltender Jordan Cooke. Later in the period, Mitch Elliot cleaned up a rebound off Cooke to give Seattle a 2-1 lead at 13:25.
Then, with a 5-on-3 advantage thanks to cross-checking and slashing penalties, the T-Birds’ Shea Theodore rifled a slapshot from the high slot over the left shoulder of Cooke. The goal staked the T-Birds a 3-1 lead with nearly 17:30 remaining in the third period. Seattle would get an empty-net goal with six seconds left to cap the scoring.
Taran Kozun stopped 33 shots and improved to 6-0 in his short tenure with Seattle. The 19-year-old is quickly becoming the team’s No. 1 goaltender.
“It’s just an all-around great game by all the fellas. We were really waiting for this one all week,” Kozun said. “I’m happy for all the guys that we got the two points.”
1. KEL Tyrell Goulbourne (8), 18:26 (SH)
2. SEA Roberts Lipsbergs (30) (Hickman, Henry), 8:42 (PP)
3. SEA Mitch Elliot (3) (Smith, Gropp), 13:25
4. SEA Shea Theodore (16) (Lipsbergs, Bear), 2:25 (PP)
5. SEA Jaimen Yakubowski (7), 19:54 (EN)
-Anthony Dion, 1090 The Fan
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