Lind lifts Rockets over Raiders

Kelowna Rockets goalie Roman Basran (30) plays the puck away from Prince Albert Raiders centreman Jordy Stallard (19) during the second period of their Dec. 15, 2017 WHL game. Evan Radford/Daily Herald

A day after Hockey Canada cut him from tryouts and effectively snubbed him from this year’s World Junior Championship tournament, Kelowna Rockets forward Kole Lind had a game for the ages.

Lind’s hat trick powered his team to a 7-3 blowout win over the Prince Albert Raiders in Friday night Western Hockey League action from the northern Saskatchewan city.

As if excising the emotional baggage from the national team exclusion, the Shaunavon, Sask. native let out at resounding cheer after completing the hat trick less than a minute into the third period.

“It definitely feels good to come out and chip in,” he said.

“It was obviously heartbreaking for me to get cut … that was a dream of mine, but I think I want to come back here and prove something, and stay mentally tough.”

Almost two years to the day, Lind recorded his second career WHL hat trick on Friday. (The first came in a Dec. 28, 2015, 3-2 win against Kamloops.) His family – including grandparents donning his #16 Rockets jersey – cheered him on from the Art Hauser Centre stands.

The game started with the Raiders grabbing the early momentum.

Using his quick hands, Brett Leason stole the puck from a Rockets skater deep in Kelowna’s zone; he then passed it to a waiting Spencer Moe who roofed his shot over top of goalie Roman Basran for a 1-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.

After Lind tied the score 1-1, centreman Jordy Stallard put his team ahead with a powerplay, wrist shot goal at 15:45 of the first period.

But the rockets kept pressing. Lind netted his second score to tie the game again at 17:57; teammate Carsen Twarynski then put the Rockets ahead 3-2 with 46 seconds left in the frame.

Prince Albert Raiders goalie Ian Scott (33) poke checks the puck away Kelowna Rockets forward Carsen Twarynski, while Raiders defenceman Brayden Pachal tried to maintain position during the second period of their Dec. 15, 2017 WHL game. Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Save for a Max Martin goal in the game’s final two minutes, that was the only offence the Raiders could capitalize on throughout the night.

The Rockets used their speed and long, outlet passes out of their zone to keep the Raiders’ defence on its heels.

And when the Prince Albert club tried transitioning the play back to the visiting team’s side of the rink, the Rockets used stubborn play at their own blue line to break up the Raiders’ passing game.

“We had a lot of unforced turnovers there, too. But you gotta give props to them, they had a good system. We played a pretty week game on the two blue lines today,” Raiders captain Curtis Miske said.

He also mentioned his team’s low shot count, which was less than 20 at the game’s end, as a contributing factor to his side not scoring enough goals.

Despite the loss, Miske remained positive.

“It’s a long season. If you have one bad game, you can turn it into a couple (with a negative outlook), but that’s where we lean on each other, and that’s what the team’s all about: Helping each other out with that positivity.

“It’s an exciting place to come to the rink everyday. It’s a happy place and a fun place. And that’s what we look forward to.”

Lind had a similar outlook regarding his cut: “There’s going to be ups and downs throughout your hockey career. I think I gotta work through those and just learn from it, and be better the next time.”

As for other players who might get cut from the team this year or next year, he had a bit of advice: “Just stick with it. There’s going to be tons more opportunities … there will always be tomorrow.”

Kelowna Rockets defenceman Libor Zabransky (7) shoots on Prince Albert Raiders goalie Ian Scott (33) in the second period of the teams’ Dec. 15, 2017 WHL game. Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid emphasized that the Friday night loss doesn’t define the team, especially considering what he deemed to be a successful first half of the 2017-18 WHL season.

“Everybody picked us to be last in the (Eastern) conference, and we’re in a playoff spot, pushing the Memorial Cup hosts (the Regina Pats). I’m proud of our guys,” he said.

The Raiders (13-14-5-2) are now off for their Christmas break. The team sits in fifth place of the WHL’s East division. They’re two points back of the fourth-place Regina Pats.

If the playoffs began today, the Raiders would qualify, with the Pats, as an Eastern conference wildcard team.

The team next plays on the road on Dec. 27 in Saskatoon. Its next home game is Dec. 28 against the Blades at 7 p.m.