Thursday, April 18, 2024

Wild open first WHL playoff run with instant classic, 8-6 win over Kelowna

Wenatchee erases three-goal lead as Wood celebrates historic six-point night

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WENATCHEE – It’s safe to say the Western Hockey League playoffs made a very good first impression for Wenatchee Wild fans Friday night at Town Toyota Center.

Down 5-2 in the second period, the Wild used a scorching stretch late in the stanza to eliminate the Kelowna Rockets’ three-goal lead on the way to an unforgettable 8-6 victory in the opening game of the teams’ best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal series. Four of Wenatchee’s first six goals came on the power play, but the star of the night was Wenatchee forward Briley Wood, with a historic four-goal, six-point showing.

Kelowna got out to a strong start, with Tij Iginla’s goal from the right-wing circle banking off of a defender and past Daniel Hauser just 1:07 into the game for a 1-0 Rockets lead. The Wild nearly killed off a five-minute penalty in the opening period, but Max Graham snapped home a shot with 8:18 left on the clock and 13 seconds remaining on the power play to make it a 2-0 game.

Wood got involved from there, banging in a back-side rebound off Miles Cooper’s initial one-timer and cutting the lead to 2-1 at 12:56. The Rockets added goals from Gabriel Szturc at 17:03 and another from Iginla 12 seconds later to carry a 4-1 lead to the locker room.

Evan Friesen added some life to the Wild offense 20 seconds out of the intermission by flicking the puck into the net from the goal line, but Iginla picked up his third goal with a one-timer on another Kelowna power play at 6:18. Wood’s second goal came on a shot low in the left circle with 6:12 left in the period, trimming the deficit to 5-3, and Karter Prosofsky and Graham Sward posted goals 24 seconds apart on a four-minute slew-footing call against Carter Kowalyk, erasing what remained of the Kelowna lead.

The Rockets briefly got the lead back on a top-shelf rope from Marek Rocak with 57.6 seconds to play in the period, but a backdoor tap-in for Wood on a pass from Kenta Isogai finished his hat trick with 11.1 seconds left, sending the teams to the dressing rooms tied at 6-6. Wood posted a fourth goal with a redirect in front of the Kelowna net with 12:54 remaining, and Isogai notched his only goal of the night by tracking down a loose puck and swatting it into the empty Kelowna cage with two seconds showing on the clock.

“We were talking as a staff quickly after the game, and I’ve never been a part of an 8-6 playoff game, ever, let alone the other two coaches,” said assistant coach Andrew Sarauer. “That’s a new one for us – at the end of the day, it’s a win and we’ll take it. It says a lot about our locker room and the guys in there right now. Getting down 4-1 in the first period of game one of the playoffs at home is not the start we wanted. It’s a never-say-die attitude, and full credit to them – they never stopped playing.”

In addition to Wood’s six-point feat, Isogai wrapped up the night with a goal and three assists, one of six multi-point postings for the Wild. Iginla’s hat trick highlighted the effort for the Rockets, while Jari Kykkanen took the loss behind 29 saves. Hauser stopped 29 of 35 Kelowna shots to earn his first postseason win with the Wild and 22nd in his WHL career. In all, the Wild closed the night with a 4-for-5 mark on the power play, while the Rockets went 2-for-6. Wood’s six-point night tied a playoff record for the organization, and the three-goal comeback for a victory tied the franchise mark for postseason play. The four-goal effort on the power play came within a goal of tying the team’s playoff record, set in 2000 and tied in 2014.

Wenatchee holds a one-game-to-none lead going to the second game of the series Saturday evening. The opening puck drop at Town Toyota Center is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tickets for that game are on sale now at 509-888-7825, or by visiting the team office at Town Toyota Center. 2024-25 season tickets also remain on sale – updated news and information on Wild hockey are always available through the team’s website and on the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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