Zach Franko scored the game winner in the final minute of overtime Sunday night as the Kelowna Rockets edged the Chilliwack Bruins 3-2 at Prospera Centre. After wrapping up a playoff spot Saturday night, the Bruins suffered a predictable letdown against the Rockets, playing slightly below the level that carried them to the postseason berth.
But the single point earned in the loss moved the sixth place Bruins to within one point of the fifth place Giants as both teams jockey for positioning in the Western conference standings.
The only goal of period one belonged to the Bruins, scored on a late power play. With Kelowna’s Jessey Astles banished to the sin bin for charging, Brandon Manning launched a rocket from the right point. The puck hit the end boards and came out the other side for Roman Horak who sniped a sharp angle shot for his 25th of the year.
Chilliwack had another excellent chance earlier in the period when a Curt Gogol pass sent Steven Hodges flying down the left wing. Hodges snapped a shot that caught iron, ringing off the left goal post.
Shots on goal in period one favoured Kelowna 10-5.
The Rockets came out stronger in period two, and took the lead on goals by Cody Chikie and Mitchell Chapman.
Chikie’s came at 9:34, assisted by Norwegian import Andreas Stene. Working out of the right corner, Stene found Chikie chugging through the slot. The pass was perfect and Chikie beat Bruins keeper Braden Gamble through a crowd for his 13th of the year. Just over two minutes later, Kelowna’s Colton Heffley bodied Chilliwack’s Mitch Topping off the puck in the left corner. Mitchell Chapman nabbed the loose puck behind the net and stuffed it inside the right goal post on the backhand. His second of the season send the Rockets to period three leading 2-1.
A sedate game was livened up in the final frame as Chilliwack’s Zach Habscheid and Kelowna’s Astles squared off for a center ice scrap. Habscheid mixed short lefts with big rights, earning a split decision against Kelowna’s penalty minute leader. The fight drew a huge ovation from the announced crowd of 4,022.
The Bruins went to the power play soon after, and tied the game on a Robin Soudek strike. The Czech camped at the top of the goal crease and got his stick on a Manning point shot, deflecting it past Cooke for his 25th of the year. The remaining 12 minutes and 38 seconds of regulation time passed uneventfully, landing the teams in overtime.
Chilliwack’s best chance in the extra session came from Kevin Sundher. The Surrey native spun away from Kelowna D-man MacKenzie Johnston in the right corner and cut hard to the net. But Sundher couldn’t finish, drawing a collective ooooooh from the crowd as the puck rolled an inch wide of the left goal post.
With 7.9 ticks left in OT, Kelowna’s Zach Franko ended the game. Veteran Evan Bloodoff earned the assist with a rush down the right wing and a shot that created a rebound. Franko followed the play, chipping the puck up and over Gamble for the winner.
The three stars were Brandon Magee (first), Cooke (second) and Gamble (third).
Chilliwack visits Spokane on Wednesday and the Tri-City Americans on Friday in potential playoff previews.
The final regular-season home game is Saturday night at 7 p.m. versus the Everett Silvertips.