There's probably no truth to the rumour that the Kelowna Rockets spent the WHL offseason in an arcade playing pinball.
But they were playing the bounces well in Friday night's season-opening 5-2 victory over the Kamloops Blazers at Interior Savings Centre.
Kelowna scored three times in the opening frame, with all the goals changing direction en route to the back of the net. Blazers goaltender Taran Kozun, making the first opening-day start of his career, had no chance on any of the markers, which left the Rockets up 3-1 heading into the second period.
"You always tell guys to get pucks to the net, but they always seem to want to do more," said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska. "You want them to shoot lots, especially early in the season. You look at that first period, a couple of our goals deflected in."
Yes, there was some luck in how the pucks ended up in the Kamloops goal, but Kelowna gets full marks for the early lead.
The Rockets absolutely dominated the opening period, outshooting their hosts 15-5 and carrying the play throughout. The Rockets forwards were able to get the puck deep into the Kamloops zone, and found ways to get the puck to shooters in scoring areas.
"That first period, it was like we dipped our toe in the water," said Blazers head coach Dave Hunchak. "We kind of stood around and were in a little bit in awe. We got the first goal, but we just weren't generating anything."
Joe Kornelsen scored on the Blazers' first shot, 3:31 in, when a puck bounced off one of Aaron Macklin's skates and onto his stick beside a wide-open net.
The Rockets' first goal, a power-play marker by Riley Stadel, appeared to bounce in off the backside of a Blazers defender. Less than a minute later, at the 8:57 mark, Justin Kirkland tipped in a MacKenzie Johnston wrister.
The icing on the cake was Rourke Chartier's late goal, which bounced off Kamloops defenceman Sam Grist and snuck through Kozun.
"Any hockey team, all you want to do is get pucks to the net," said Johnston, a 20-year-old native of Swift Current. "You throw it on net, get bodies in front, and it usually works out."
The Blazers didn't sit around sulking - they came back with an excellent second period.
Kamloops started to move in the middle frame, and Cole Ully banged in a rebound to cut the lead to 3-2 with five minutes remaining. The Blazers had a chance to tie things up three minutes later, but Matt Needham hit a post on a penalty shot.
"We came out firing in the first, but then we took our foot off the gas," Johnston said. "I don't know if we thought it was going to be easy when we came out.
"There's going to be no easy nights in this league; everyone has to work hard."
The Blazers' comeback ended 57 seconds into the third period when, after a Kamloops giveaway, Austin Glover scored to make it 4-2. Chartier added an empty-netter.
The chatter leading up to the season surrounded the Blazers' youth and inexperience, along with the Rockets' depth and talent. But, minus those first 20 minutes, the Blazers skated with Kelowna.
"Once we got going, we were fine," Hunchak said. "We're not going to let our guys off the hook. We had some passengers tonight, and we have to be better as a group."
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 4,788. . . . Kozun made 28 saves, one more than Kelowna's Jordon Cooke. . . . Canadian country music artist Aaron Pritchett sang O Canada before the game. . . . RW Myles Bell was a scratch for Kelowna. The New Jersey Devils reassigned Bell, the Rockets' leading scorer in 2012-13, on Thursday. His status for tonight's rematch in Kelowna is questionable as he is still en route to Kelowna. . . . Kelowna also scratched LW Carter Rigby and D Mitchell Wheaton, who are coming off shoulder surgeries. . . . The Daily News' Three Stars: 1. Chartier: A nice night for the 17-year-old; 2. Kamloops D Jordan Thomson: Two assists in a solid effort; 3. Johnston: leads a tough Kelowna defence. . . . The Blazers are planning to rotate their alternate captains early in the season; D Landon Cross and RW Chase Souto, both 19, were wearing the A's last night. . . . RW JC Lipon, 20, who is still eligible to return to the Blazers this season, was reassigned to the AHL's St. John's IceCaps on Friday. Lipon has signed a contract with the Winnipeg Jets, but there is a small chance he could end up with the Blazers.