CALGARY, Alta. — Ian Duval wouldn’t talk about revenge or satisfaction Saturday but both appeared evident in his smile.
The former Calgary Hitmen forward haunted his former team in Game 2 the Western Hockey League’s final Saturday with a goal and an assist. Duval’s break-away speed created the Kelowna Rockets’ first goal then the go-ahead goal early in the third period en route to Kelowna’s 5-2 win in Game 2.
"There’s a lot of familiar faces on the other side but when you get out there you’re competing for a championship so it all changes when you’re out there," Duval said. "You’re not buddy-buddy."
Duval became a casualty in the numbers game before this season with the Hitmen. Calgary had five overage players but with just three overage slots available, Duval, and goaltender Dan Spence, who later joined the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting, became expendable.
The product of Winnipeg, Man. was eventually dealt to the rebuilding Moose Jaw Warriors after missing training camp with mononucleosis. The Rockets then added Duval at the WHL’s trade deadline, a move that fell well below the radar after Kelowna’s big addition of Mikael Backlund from Sweden which garnered most of the headlines.
The trade for Duval may not have been noticed in most circles at the time but not in the Rockets’ locker room.
"He’s just as big a part of this team as the other guys that we got at the deadline," defenceman Tyler Myers explained. "He’s been in the league for a while so he’s got a lot of experience and he’s gone deep in the playoffs so he’s definitely been a big part of our dressing room and he’s been a great leader for us."
Duval cites scoring the overtime winning goal in Game 7 of a first round matchup with the Kootenay Ice two seasons ago as his fondest memory in a Hitmen uniform. But as far as gaining any satisfaction by scoring against his former team was concerned, Duval deferred to the excitement of playing for the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
"It’s a lot of fun coming back here, especially being in an NHL barn," he said. "I know the guys in the room are excited to be here and we’re just here trying to win the championship."
"I think the thing that he wants more than anything right now is to win," Rockets head coach Ryan Huska said.
"Any time you spend as long of a time as Ian did here it’s going to be special if he’s able to come in and help contribute and help our club win, for sure."
Duval’s speed was one of his assets sought after by the Rockets. Kelowna paired him with Evan Bloodoff, giving the Rockets a burst of speed that Calgary had difficulty containing all evening.
Bloodoff was the game’s first star with a goal and two assists. Huska held little back in the post-game press conference when asked about his emerging speedster’s game.
"I can say to Evan that this is probably the best game he’s played for our hockey club in three years," he said. "He’s got great speed and I think our challenge to Evan is to get him to use it all the time because there aren’t a lot of defencemen in our league that can handle his wide speed."
The same can be said for his linemate and former Hitmen.
"(Duval) challenges me all the time in practice with that speed," said Myers, one of the top defencemen in the league. "It’s nice to have him on our side. He had an unbelievable game (Saturday) and you have to give him a lot of credit."
The Rockets wouldn’t take much time to celebrate their victory Saturday but didn’t hide that they felt fortunate to have won both games against Calgary. The Hitmen lost just four times at home all season, one of those coming to Kelowna, and have now lost back-to-back home games.
Kelowna is in the driver’s seat in the WHL final with the possibility of hosting three of the final five games, should this series require seven games.
The Hitmen now find themselves in a situation they haven’t faced throughout the playoffs, needing to bounce back from a loss after going undefeated through the first three rounds.
"They took the play to us," Calgary head coach Dave Lowry said. "They elevated it and they got a little bit of momentum and they capitalized on their chances. We didn’t have enough to push back but it takes four (games) to win."
"They’re going to adjust and they’re going to be ready for Game 3," Duval said. "They’re a great team and we can’t sit back and expect them to die and fall over. Next game is huge for us."
Notes – Kelowna forward Jamie Benn left Game 2 after taking a vicious hit from Calgary defenceman Keith Seabrook in the first period. It was the second such night where Seabrook delivered a crushing hit on Benn. The Rockets forward is expected back for Game 3 as Huska said the team’s doctor made the decision for Benn not to return Saturday.