PHOTO: Wenatchee Wild forward Evan Friesen sprints the puck up the ice Saturday against the Kelowna Rockets in Western Hockey League play. Friesen scored the go-ahead goal for the Wild in the third period of a 5-3 loss. (Photo credit: Paige Bednorz/Kelowna Rockets)

Austin Draude Wenatchee Wild Media & Broadcast Manager

KELOWNA, British Columbia – As the 2023-24 Western Hockey League season hits full speed, the Wenatchee Wild are starting to see the building blocks come together on special teams. One night after breaking through for their first power play goal of the season, the Wild added another one and tacked on a shorthanded goal in a 5-3 defeat Saturday against the Kelowna Rockets.

Easton Armstrong enjoyed a spirited debut to his new season after returning from the Los Angeles Kings’ preseason training camp, scoring Wenatchee’s opening goal and tacking on an assist in the third period.

Tij Iginla put the Rockets in front first, though, taking a backdoor feed from Andrew Cristall and banging it into the net for a 1-0 lead at the 6:41 mark of the opening stanza. Armstrong broke free along with Miles Cooper on the penalty kill to put away the equalizer for the Wild, though, poking home a rebound past Jari Kykkanen with just under five minutes left in the period to tie the game at 1-1.

Iginla set up the only goal of the second period, zipping a pass to Hiroki Gojsic, who caught it at the bottom of the left-wing faceoff circle and tossed it into the top corner of the cage with 12:31 left on the clock.

Wenatchee charged into the lead with two goals in a 73-second span, as Rodzers Bukarts scored his first WHL goal with a rocket from the top of the right-wing circle. That highlighted a 5-on-3 power play at 5:37 of the third, tying the game at 2-2. Evan Friesen hammered home a one-timer of his own at 6:50 of the third, putting the Wild in front.

The Rockets used the power play to put away the game, though, starting with a second-chance goal from Michael Cicek with 8:42 left in the game. After Cicek pushed in a goal on a pop-up rebound from Turner McMillen’s initial chance, Cristall sneaked in a sharp-angle chance with 5:04 remaining to put Kelowna in front for good. Jackson DeSouza added a final goal with 2:46 when Gojsic slid a pass to the high slot, which DeSouza snapped past Daniel Hauser for the game’s final goal.

“I thought we battled hard the entire night,” said Wenatchee associate head coach Chris Clark. “Our power play did a great job to get us the lead in the third period, but we lost our discipline a bit and Kelowna capitalized. The nice thing is, we get a chance to get back after it tomorrow and we won’t have to wait a full week.”

Graham Sward had two assists to add to the Wenatchee offense, one night after posting his 100th career point against the Everett Silvertips. Cristall highlighted his return from NHL camp with a goal and two assists, along with a goal and an assist from Gojsic and Iginla. Wenatchee went 1-for-5 on the power play, while the Rockets finished the night 2-for-5.

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The weekend wraps up Sunday afternoon with a matinee matchup against the Vancouver Giants. The opening puck drop at Langley Events Centre is slated for 4 p.m., with live coverage at 3:45pm on Newsradio 560 KPQ and WHL Live.


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