It didn't take long for Kelowna Rockets fans to litter the ice at Prospera Place with more than a thousand stuffed animals Saturday night.
Max Graham scored just 2:07 into the game sparking a sea of stuffed animals from every corner of the rink during the team's annual Teddy Bear Toss game. Each animal will now go to brighten someone's day at Interior Health facilities across the Kelowna region.
Graham's goal was also the quickest on a Teddy Bear Toss night.
"It's definitely exciting. I didn't really think I would be the guy to score it. Just hoping someone did and it was nice to get it done early in the game," said Graham.
"I think in the back of everyone's head we all just wanted to get that out of the way quick. It's a big stoppage in the game...it's fun to be out there when it happens but the legs get cold when you're out there...so we were lucky to get it done quick."
The monumental goal was started by Andrew Cristall. His pass deflected straight to Graham who leaned into a heavy wrist shot that beat T-Bird netminder Scott Ratzlaff high to the blocker side.
Graham also helped set up Tij Iginla's 19th of the season three minutes later. Off the rush Graham fed Gabriel Szturc who spotted Iginla open on the left wing.
Iginla gloved the pass and wired a shot just inside the far post.
Seattle got one back as time expired when Simon Lovsin beat Jari Kykkanen on a breakaway with 0.3 seconds left in the period.
"I think the messaging was good from the players from within," said head coach Kris Mallette of the message in the dressing room after that last second goal.
"I didn't have to say a whole bunch because I wasn't too happy with the reaction to the hit and we got real loose.
"I felt we could have given them some momentum but they came out and threw everything they had at us but Jari was a brick wall and we got a little bit of momentum after that."
Cristall, returning to the lineup after missing the last three games worked to the left faceoff circle from the point and beat Ratzlaff to the far side.
After Seattle again pulled to within a goal on an early third period power play, it was Cristall who restored the two-goal edge moments later stealing a clearing pass and beating Ratzlaff with a quick shot.
Kykkanen shut the door the rest of the way as the T-Birds peppered him with 19 shots during the final 20 minutes in an attempt to get back in it.
Cristall, who also had an assist to go along with his two goals provided a spark for a team that had lost 10 of its last 11 games.
"The puck goes through him. He's a player that our players look for, he's a player that in the offensive zone is able to manipulate defenders, find open guys, and hold onto the puck," said Mallette.
"Each team has a couple of those guys and when he was out of our lineup the weight bears on a lot of our other guys to step up. He's real special and obviously scored some big goals for us."
It was an important win according to Graham, not just bouncing back into the win column but doing it against a team that shut them out just two nights earlier.
The Rockets will close out the pre-Christmas portion of their home schedule Wednesday when they entertain the Wenatchee Wild.
Then it's on the road for seven straight including their five-game Eastern Division road trip just to close out the unofficial end to the first half of the season.
Nathan Behm and Shea Van Olm scored two goals apiece to help the Kamloops Blazers snap a three-game losing streak Friday to start the post-Fraser Minten era off on the right foot with a 6-3 win over the Vancouver Giants.
Harrison Brunicke, Van Olm (2), Behm (2) and Andrew Thomson were the goal scorers for the Blazers. Cameron Schmidt, Kyran Gronick and Tyler Thorpe scored for the Giants.
Brunicke opened the scoring for the Blazers six minutes into the game, but Vancouver scored three times in the second half of the first period to take a two-goal lead into the first intermission.
Van Olm, Behm and Thomson scored in the second period to put the Blazers up, and Behm iced it with his second of the game 2:24 into the third. Van Olm scored his second of the night on an empty Vancouver net with 47 seconds remaining.
Dylan Ernst made 20 saves on 23 shots to earn the win in net. Brett Mirwald stopped 33 of 38 Kamloops shots in the loss.
The Blazers scored twice on four power-play opportunities. The Giants were scoreless on two chances.
Announced attendance at Sandman Centre was 4,123.
The win moves the Blazers to 6-13-2-2 on the season, still dead last in the WHL’s Western Conference. With the loss, the Giants fall to 8-13-2-0.
Minten, the Blazers captain, was traded on Friday to the Saskatoon Blades in a WHL blockbuster. In return, the Blazers receive Kamloops product Jordan Keller and three draft picks — two first-rounders and a fourth. Keller suited up on Friday and assisted on Van Olm's first goal.
The Blazers are back in action on home ice on Saturday, when the Everett Silvertips (14-9-1-0) visit for a 6 p.m. face off.
The Kamloops Blazers have traded their captain to recoup some of the draft picks they gave up last year, as well as a forward with Kamloops roots.
Fraser Minten was traded Friday to the Saskatoon Blades. In exchange, the Blazers will receive 18-year-old Kamloops product Jordan Keller as well as three draft picks — first-round selections in 2024 and 2025, plus a fourth-round pick in 2024.
“Fraser’s character, work ethic and leadership qualities have made a lasting impact throughout the organization in his four seasons with the Kamloops Blazers,” head coach and GM Shaun Clouston said in a news release.
“We have been fortunate to watch Fraser embrace opportunity, challenge himself every day and go after his dream of becoming a professional hockey player.”
Minten, who is from Vancouver, started the 2023-2024 season in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was named Blazers captain upon his return to Kamloops.
Minten has 10 points in seven games this season with the Blazers, including a three-point night on Wednesday in a loss to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Keller is a second-generation Blazers. His dad played for the club from 1992 to 1996. He has five goals and three assists through 23 games this season for Saskatoon. Last year, he put up 30 points in 66 games.
“We are very excited to add Jordan to our team,” Clouston said.
“Jordan is a smart, skilled hockey player that has passion and commitment to the game.”
The Blazers are home this weekend for games against the Vancouver Giants on Friday and the Everett Silvertips on Saturday.
The Kelowna Rockets were unable to build upon Tuesday night's slump-busting win.
Twenty-four hours after snapping a nine-game losing streak the Rockets were back at it Wednesday night in Seattle.
The T-Birds smothered the Rockets much of the night, letting an early second period goal stand much of the way in a 2-0 victory over the Rockets.
After a scoreless first the Rockets found themselves in all sorts of penalty trouble in the second as they were forced to kill off three minor penalties and a five-minute major to former T-Bird Ethan Mittelsteadt who was sent to the showers for cross checking.
The T-Birds made them pay when Eric Alarie put home his eighth on the power play.
The Rockets were unable to get anything going the rest of the period while killing off nine minutes in penalties.
Kelowna got two power play chances in the third but the struggling power play was unable to capitalize.
Simon Lovsin sealed the win into an empty net.
Jari Kykkanen was again solid, stopping 35 of 36 shots directed his way.
The Rockets head home to host the same T-Birds Saturday at Prospera Place.
The game is the Rockets annual Teddy Bear Toss night.
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