Short on staff, the Calgary Hitmen dominated the reigning Memorial Cup champions. Except for the third period, when the Hitmen blew a two-goal lead, settling for a 3-3 deadlock with the Kelowna Rockets last night in front of the 8,900 Saddledome faithful.
The Hitmen surrendered two goals in the third -- one to rookie Myles Macrae, who scored from centre ice early, and Troy Bodie's second of the night, which tied it up with eight minutes to play.
"Naturally, (a lucky goal) creates a little adversity on your bench and the guys get a little nervous," said Hitmen co-coach/GM Kelly Kisio, whose club had three straight powerplays in the third and managed just one shot on goal.
"The guys have to suck it up and not worry about it. It's a bunch of young guys out there and you could see them squeezing their sticks a little ... but I thought our guys played real hard."
The Hitmen were without their two leading scorers in Ryan Getzlaf (35 points) and Andrew Ladd (24 points), who are at national junior-team selection camp in Winnipeg, while the Rockets were red-hot, coming in with one loss in their previous 16 games (9-1-6).
The Hitmen (15-12-6-1) are also dealing with a rash of injuries, rolling just three lines.
Kisio admitted his players seemed tired in the third after starting with a lot of jump.
Hitmen centre Ryan White opened the scoring on the powerplay, logging his fifth of the year at 16:01 of the first.
The Rockets (19-7-8) tied it at 1-1 just 19 seconds into the second with a man-advantage goal when Bodie pounced on a rebound.
Rangy blueliner Jeff Schultz put the Hitmen ahead just a minute later, wristing the puck in on a powerplay.
It was a massive monkey off his back after the Washington Capitals prospect scored 11 times last season.
"It's a huge relief. I've tried shooting from everywhere out there and for this one to finally go in, it's a dream," said the 6-ft. 7-in. Calgarian. "I don't have to think about it and the guys will stop bugging me now."
The Hitmen went up 3-1 later in the second thanks to a great effort from Riley Merkley, who skated across the blueline and used a Rockets defender as a screen to beat Rockets goalie Derek Yeomans.
The Hitmen hit the road and will play Moose Jaw Friday and Saskatoon Saturday.
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CALGARY HITMEN: 3
KELOWNA ROCKETS: 3