Portland erase a late two-goal deficit then score in overtime in a come-from-behind 6-5 win over the Rockets

Rockets let one slip away

The Kelowna Rockets let a two-goal lead slip away late in the third period, then gave up the overtime winner, falling 6-5 to the Portland Winterhawks in their season opener Saturday night.

The Rockets had a chance to put the visiting Winterhawks away late in the third period, up two with a four-minute power play and less than nine minutes to go.

But it was Portland who seized the momentum when Gabe Klassen found himself alone in front of Jari Kykkanen, and buried his fourth of the night shorthanded.

Just 66 seconds later Portland completed the comeback when a seemingly harmless pass deflected off a pair of skates to Luke Schelter who tapped the puck past a startled Kykkanen.

Luca Cagnoni won it for the visitors with a wrist shot from the high slot during three-on-three overtime.

"They did not stop...for a team that played last night for sure," said head coach Kris Mallette.

"They are always pressing the pace and stretching the zones. Our guys were taken back a little, and on their heels because of it.

"in the defensive zone, we struggled at times to make some real good puck decisions and ultimately it ended up in the back of our net."

Adam Kydd, another player Mallette will be leaning heavily on, produced in a big way in the opener, scoring once and assisting on the other four.

The trio of Kydd, Gabriel Szturc and Andrew Cristall combined for 11 points on the night.

Szturc, celebrating his 19th birthday, scored twice and added a pair of assists while Cristall added a pair of goals.

"Kydder has been pretty solid. He's one of those guys that just goes about his business.

"Not flashy, just real consistent. And, tonight he was rewarded for it."

Portland led 2-1 early in the second when the trio started rolling. Szturc backhanded a rebound of Kydd's shot past Dante Giannuzzi to tie it at two then Cristall, on a feed from Kydd just after a power play had expired, put the Rockets up for the first time.

They extended the lead to two on a power play in the opening minute of the third when Cristall banged home his second on a one-timer from the left circle.

But, they couldn't close it out.

"It was a good effort overall for the first game of the season, but a lot of things to work on," said Kydd.

"For the first game it was great to see the fans, and a lot of energy. But, a tough way to finish obviously, but there were a lot of good things."

The Rockets had a couple of good chances to close it in overtime. Turner McMillen and Caden Price found themselves in on a two-on-ones twice in short succession, but were unable to connect on cross ice passes.

The Rockets are off again this week before travelling north for a pair of games in Prince George Friday and Saturday.

Fans amped as puck drops on Blazers' Memorial Cup season

Blazers fans excited for run

Sydney Chisholm

The puck dropped Friday for the Kamloops Blazers' first game of the WHL season and fans say they're expecting a big year at Sandman Centre.

Aria Delaney, a young Blazers fan, said the game is definitely the place to be.

“[It’s] definitely very loud. And there's a lot of excitement going around,” she said.

Les Delorme, another Blazers fan said he’s been watching the team for as long as he can remember and sees some good things to come.

“I think we're gonna see a lot of growth and some pretty high quality hockey, got some great players coming back.” Delorme told Castanet Kamloops.

“We have some great things going to happen here this year.”

Many in Blazer Nation say they've been waiting all summer for the first game of the season. The anticipation is high because the club is hosting the Memorial Cup next spring.

“Everybody's excited,” said Elwood Delaney, a self-proclaimed Blazers superfan.

“We all want to win.”

For the fans who were in the stands in 1995 — the only other time the Blazers have hosted the Memorial Cup — the start of the season is bringing a bit of nostalgia.

Delorme said he was living in Merritt at the time and made the trip to the Tournament Capital to watch the Blazers in action.

“It was amazing. I was only like 18 years old so it was quite a while ago so it was nice to see that, now I'm bringing my own kids to the game so something I get to share,” Delorme said.

The Blazers lost Friday, falling 3-0 to the Portland Winterhawks. Many fans are anticipating a rocky start to the season with eight Blazers veterans away at NHL training camps, but the expectations remain high.

“I want to see us win our way into the Memorial Cup,” Elwood said.

“I don't want to see us just get that give me that over here. I think we're going to win our way in and then take it all.”

The Blazers second game of the season will be played in Spokane against the Chiefs on Oct. 1. Their next home game is Oct. 7, when the Victoria Royals visit Sandman Centre.

Blazers held scoreless on opening night, fall 3-0 to Portland

Blazers shut out in opener

UPDATE: 9:59 p.m.

Despite some good chances late in the third period, the Kamloops Blazers were held scoreless Friday at Sandman Centre, shut out 3-0 by the Portland Winterhawks on the opening night of the WHL season.

Dylan Ernst was solid in net for the Blazers, stopping 35 of 38 Portland shots, but Kamloops couldn’t muster any scoring despite five power play chances in front of an announced crowd of 4,485.

Gabe Klassen opened the scoring 94 seconds into the game while Drew Englot was in the penalty box for boarding. Marcus Nguyen scored at 5:52 of the second period and Klassen added another at 17:14 of the third.

Portland goalie Dante Gianuzzi was perfect on 24 shots.

The Blazers start the season without eight veterans, including Logan Stankoven and Fraser Minten, who are away at NHL camps. Expectations are high for the club, which is hosting the Memorial Cup next spring.

The Blazers will have to wait a while before their next crack at the win column. Game 2 on the season will go next Saturday, Oct. 1, in Spokane against the Chiefs. Their next home game is Oct. 7, when the Victoria Royals visit Sandman Centre.

ORIGINAL STORY: 10:57 a.m.

It’s game night on Mark Recchi Way.

The Kamloops Blazers will open their regular season against the Portland Winterhawks. Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m., but the festivities will begin at 5 p.m. with $5 burgers and beers on offer at the Norkam Mechanical Group Lounge.

Expectations are high for the Blazers, who will host the Memorial Cup next spring. The club is coming off three consecutive B.C. Division titles and is ranked fifth in the CHL’s pre-season Top 10 ranking.

The Blazers will start the season short-handed, with eight key players — including Logan Stankoven, last year’s CHL player of the year — away at NHL training camps.

For tickets to Friday night's game, click here.

After Friday, the Blazers will be off for more than a week. Game 2 of the season is scheduled for Oct. 1 on the road against the Spokane Chiefs.

Construction near Sandman Centre

The Blazers took to social media on Friday morning to remind fans about construction on Lorne Street — work that could make getting to the game a challenge for some. The team is encouraging fans to plan ahead with the road work in mind.

Follow the Blazers on Castanet

Like previous seasons, Castanet Kamloops will once again cover the Blazers from start to finish.

Each game night, check Castanet Kamloops for a summary of the evening's action and a look ahead at what's next.

Be sure to follow Castanet Kamloops on Facebook and subscribe to our daily Kamloops newsletter to stay on top of everything Blue and Orange.

Kelowna Rockets enter a new season with growing expectations

Rockets high expectations

The Kelowna Rockets won't be sneaking up on anyone this coming Western Hockey League season.

The Rockets, with a young nucleus of talent, surpassed expectations a season ago, finishing with 42 wins and 90 points while giving the Kamloops Blazers a run for the BC Division title before fading down the stretch.

With a large contingent of players returning from that team, a lot is expected.

And, with the home opener just 48 hours away, excitement within the room, and the fan base, is growing.

"It's been a long off season. A lot of guys are returning from last year's team, so we're just looking at getting off to the right start," said head coach Kris Mallette.

"Obviously this year with 12 returning forwards, five returning defencemen and potentially two returning goalies, you want to build on that.

"Whether or not that happens, there are some guys that have to take some serious steps."

The player expected to lead that charge is 17-year-old forward Andrew Cristall.

Cristall was third in rookie scoring in the WHL a year ago with 28 goals and 69 points in 61 games. He was also third on the team across all three categories behind linemate Colton Dach and Pavel Novak.

"He's an elite talent. Expectations for him are high, but he puts a lot of pressure on himself as well," said Mallette.

"For us, with the group we've got, we have a lot of guys who work extremely hard. The skill set is there, but he has an elite skill set.

"He's an offensive threat every time he's on the ice."

Cristall acknowledges there's pressure on him to contribute, but adds there are a lot of guys who can put the puck into the net as well.

"I'm just trying to do my job, and everything will work out," said Cristall.

Cristall says he spent the summer working on his speed and strength. He's put on a few pounds and says he may have grown an inch.

"I really worked on my power skating and I think it's helped a lot. I think I've gained an extra step."

While Cristall shoulders some of the team expectations, this season is also pivotal personally. He's eligible for the NHL draft in June, and early pre season ranking have him as a mid first round selection.

"Obviously, it's hard not to think about the draft.

"But, I just to come here, work every day and keep that in the back of my mind. If I do the little things right, the good things like that will come in the future. I'm just trying to take it day by day."

The Rockets will open up the regular season Saturday when they entertain the Portland Winterhawks.

Kelowna will be without Dach and goaltender Talyn Boyko, who remain at NHL training camps.

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