Hitmen ground high-flying Rockets
Sunday, February 08, 2004
Hitmen goalie Barry Brust and Jeff Schultz team up to foil scoring chance by Kelowna Rockets' Justin Keller on Saturday.
Calgary Hitmen forward Shaun Landolt, left, collides with Kelowna Rockets' Cam Paddock and goaltender Derek Yeomans during first-period action.
Sometimes a sense of desperation can make all the difference.
The Calgary Hitmen played with that feeling Saturday when they skated against the best team in the Western Hockey League.
The result was a 3-0 victory over the Kelowna Rockets before a crowd of 11,109 at the Pengrowth Saddledome. The Hitmen (27-16-6-5) regained third place in the Central Division with the triumph.
It may not have been Calgary's most exciting performance and the game lacked the intensity of Friday's overtime loss to the Kamloops Blazers, but the Hitmen played close to mistake-free hockey against the No. 2-ranked team in the nation.
Calgary needed the win, Kelowna didn't, and it showed.
"We played desperate hockey," said Hitmen forward Ryan Getzlaf, who opened the scoring in the first minute of the game. "Kelowna played its style of hockey, waiting for us to make a mistake. But you have to hand it to our guys. We stayed focused for 60 minutes.
"That's one of the things we've been struggling with. We've been blowing leads late in games, but not tonight."
The Rockets were limited to 10 shots on goaltender Barry Brust over the first two periods. Brust stopped 22 shots to register his first shutout of the season.
The Hitmen scored once in each period.
Getzlaf notched an unassisted tally at 56 seconds on a backhander as he swooped in from the left side. It was his 19th goal of the season.
The Hitmen made it 2-0 in the second period on a picture-perfect goal by Andrew Ladd.
Ladd broke a seven-game scoring drought with his goal.
Steve Covington completed the scoring with a power-play goal in the final 30 seconds of the third period.
"The guys paid the price; you have to," said Hitmen coach Rich Kromm. "That's what wins games. If you have to put your body in front of a shot or give the second effort to get to a puck first . . . those are things that pay dividends in the end."
Kromm disputed the notion the Rockets were in cruise control. He said the Rockets' talent was obvious to him.
"They don't sit back, they finish their checks," said Kromm. "They work hard, shift-in and shift-out.
"Tonight, they didn't have any success offensively, but they worked hard."
Kelowna wasn't feeling the same pressure as Calgary. The Rockets had a 19-point cushion atop the B.C. Division and can coast to the playoffs when they will start out to defend their WHL championship.
They also have an automatic berth in the Memnorial Cup tournament as the host team in May.
Their record is still a gaudy 38-16-4-0, but their comfort zone started to shrink ever so slightly due to a 5-5 mark in their past 10 games.
Kelowna lost 3-1 in Lethbridge on Friday. That's one goal in the past 120 minutes.
After the loss to the Himen, Rockets coach Marc Habscheid did not make himself available to Calgary media.
"We needed a win and we wanted to win badly," said Rockets defenceman Mike Card. "We want to be on a streak going into the playoffs. We don't want to be winning a game, losing a game."
ICE CHIPS: The Rockets rested goaltender Kelly Guard, who had the best goals-against average in the WHL. The Rockets started Derek Yeomans . . . The Hitmen's next game is in Saskatoon on Wednesday. They are in Prince Albert on Friday and back at home for a 5 p.m. Sunday start against the Blades . . . The crowd of 11,109 made it two-straight home games over 10,000 for the Hitmen. The crowd count was 10,579 Friday.