Kelowna Rockets goaltender Jari Kykkanen earned his first career win in his first career WHL start in a 4-3 victory over the Victoria Royals on Wednesday, stopping 21 of 24 shots.

The Royals (12-21-4-1) would tie it late with a pair of early third period goals by Bailey Peach and Matthew Hodson, but a goal by Rockets (20-10-1-3) defenseman Jake Lee late in regulation would lead to the team dropping their ninth straight contest. They remain winless in 2022.

Although his team took home the loss, head coach Dan Price was impressed with the way his players were able to empty the tank in their sixth game in the past nine days:

“The effort was great.” said Price postgame. “Especially in the third, being down three to one and to come roaring back like that…the way that they pushed and went for it and put themselves in a position to win gives me a tremendous amount of pride in the character of the group.”

It was a slow start for both offences on Wednesday, with the first period ending with zeroes for either side.

The scoring drought would be broken with Kelowna forward Andrew Cristall’s 11th of the year at 1:25 of the second. This was followed a few minutes later by a highlight-reel toe-drag goal scored by Rockets forward Mark Liwiski, making it 2-1 for the away side. The Dauphin, MB native now has two goals against the Royals this week, and 10 on the season.

Victoria would cut the lead in half at 15:30 on rookie forward Anthony Wilson’s fourth of the year, counting Hodson and Tanner Scott on the assists.

Just when the Royals looked like they were on their way to tying it, a puck dumped into the Victoria zone by Kelowna defenceman John Babcock careened off the end boards and redirected off the back of Royals goaltender Tyler Palmer’s left leg and into the net, making it 3-1 Rockets. It was Babcock’s first career WHL goal.

The momentum would shift back into the Royals favour to start the third, scoring twice to even the game at 3-3 before the 10-minute mark. The first was netted by Peach at 2:20 of the period after Luke Shipley sprung the forward on a breakaway with a beautiful stretch pass for his 23rd of the campaign. Then it would be forward Hodson scoring the tying goal at 5:29, counting his second point of the night and second goal of the year.

The game would enter its final minutes with the score still tied at two, but it would be Kelowna’s Jake Lee (9) who would break the deadlock with a point shot that snuck through the legs of Royals goaltender Palmer and handed the Rockets the eventual 4-3 victory.

Palmer shouldered another heavy workload on Wednesday, stopping 45 of 49 shots in the loss.

The Rockets are slated to play a home-and-home series against the Vancouver Giants beginning in Langley on Friday night, while the Royals will head to Kamloops for a pair of games against the BC Division leading Blazers. Puck drop for the first game is set for 7 pm on Friday Jan. 29 at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops.