Kootenay Ice forward Colton Kroeker had the team’s lone goal in their September 23, 2017 loss to the Calgary Hitmen on the road at the Scotiabank Saddledome. (File Photo - Brad McLeod)

Kootenay Ice fall to Hitmen in 3-1 loss, split home-and-home series

Dominant third period leads Calgary to win over Cranbrook squad in second of back-to-back games

The Kootenay Ice came to play in the second period on Saturday night, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the other two frames.

A dominant final 20 minutes for the Calgary Hitmen in their home opener, led to a 3-1 Ice loss and split the teams’ opening weekend home-and-home series.

According to head coach James Patrick, the team didn’t capitalize enough in the second and didn’t play well in the third.

“I really like our second period, I thought we could have had three or four [goals],” Patrick said. “It completely the opposite in the third, I thought [the Hitmen] were way harder on the puck [and] supported each other a lot better.

“I was really disappointed in [how we] brought pucks back and [had] turnovers in our zone.”

The game got off to an energized start with back-and-forth hockey leading to several quality chances from the home side.

Peyton Krebs’ line with Gilian Kohler and Barrett Sheen managed to give Kootenay their first sustained pressure near the five minute mark, but goalie Bailey Brkin was the main difference-maker for the Ice with several saves off odd-man rushes.

Brkin, who picked up his first win in his first WHL start the night before, was once again solid at the Saddledome and made 8 saves in the first 20 minutes of play.

After a run-and-gun first half of the opening period, the pace slowed and ended as a scoreless draw. After the intermission, however, the Ice looked like a brand new team.

Playing with an increased sense of urgency, Kootenay piled up chances and eventually took advantage of their second power play of the night at the seven-minute mark.

After a unit of Krebs, Kohler, Alec Baer, Martin Bodak and Brett Davis came close to scoring on the power play, Colton Kroeker took matters into his own hands on the next shift and found his way past all four Hitmen players to beat Nick Schneider.

The effort was a highlight reel goal and took some life out of the raucous crowd of almost 10,000 fans.

The tally was also enough to give the Ice a lead after the second period, a stretch in which the team outshot the Hitmen 16-4.

The third period was quickly seized by Calgary though. The Hitmen got onto the board just over a minute into the frame with Russian-import forward Andrei Grishakov beating Brkin for his first of the year.

Minutes later, Andrew Fyten found himself alone in the slot and made no mistake on the eventual game-winner, which was assisted by NHL prospect Beck Malenstyn and Mark Kastelic.

Although a nice feed from Kohler to a streaking Sheen almost tied the game back up, overager Schneider made one of a dozen big saves on the night to keep his team in front.

Pulling Brkin with a minute and a half remaining, Patrick was not able to draw up a winning play and Hitmen defenceman Jackson van de Leest found the open cage and sealed the deal at 3-1.

Overall, the Hitmen outshot the Ice 27-25 and Schneider was named the game’s first star for his solid play in net. Brkin, who was the first star the night before in Cranbrook, also had a good game and was honoured as the second star.

“Both these games [Brkin] has given us a chance to win,” Patrick said. “I’ve been really happy with him, it’s been a really good start for his career — by the end of the game he was our best player.”

While it wasn’t the result the team wanted, the Ice were competitive for a second straight night to start out the 2017-18 season.

With a 1-1 record two days into the year, with plenty of promising signs and room for improvement, Patrick’s team now has a week of practice to get ready for their next action.

Although the team’s powerplay started to improve throughout the night, special teams and limiting turnovers will likely be focuses heading into next weekend’s home-and-home with the Spokane Chiefs.

The Ice return to Western Financial Place on Friday to play the Chiefs at 7 p.m. and then head to the Veterans Memorial Arena for an 8:05 p.m. rematch on Saturday.

SUMMARY:

1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Krebs Ktn (slashing), 9:31; Murray Cgy (kneeing), 14:31; Fleury Ktn (interference), 18:41.

2nd Period-1, Kootenay, Kroeker 1 (Sheen, Loschiavo), 6:55 (PP). Penalties-Fyten Cgy (hooking), 5:15; Campbell Cgy (tripping), 11:16; Veloso Ktn (roughing), 13:06; Toder Cgy (roughing), 13:06; Sidaway Ktn (elbowing), 14:03; Gennaro Cgy (slashing), 14:49; Russell Ktn (roughing), 17:32; Gurney Cgy (misconduct – mouthguard), 17:32.

3rd Period-2, Calgary, Grishakov 1 (Kryski), 1:11. 3, Calgary, Fyten 1 (Malenstyn, Kastelic), 5:55. 4, Calgary, van de Leest 1 18:35 (EN). Penalties-No Penalties

Shots on Goal-Kootenay 3-16-6-25. Calgary 8-4-15-27.

Power Play Opportunities-Kootenay 1 / 4; Calgary 0 / 5.

Goalies-Kootenay, Brkin 1-1-0-0 (26 shots-24 saves). Calgary, Schneider 1-1-0-0 (25 shots-24 saves).

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