With the holiday break fast approaching, the Kootenay Ice started gift-giving to fans this past weekend, grabbing two home-ice victories and climbing back into the WHL playoff picture.
Unfortunately for the Prince Albert Raiders and Edmonton Oil Kings, the generosity of the Ice came at the expense of Kootenay’s two Eastern Conference rivals.
The Ice (17-17-0-0) moved to within one point of the Oil Kings (15-13-3-2) for fourth place in the WHL’s Central Division. The win also jumped the Ice past the Moose Jaw Warriors (15-15-2-1) and into the second and final wildcard position in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
The Ice edged the Raiders 3-2 in overtime Friday night, before doubling up the Oil Kings 6-3 Saturday.
Ice forward Zak Zborosky helped fuel the drive back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The second-year native of Regina tallied three goals and an assist in two games this weekend, including the overtime winner over Prince Albert Friday night.
“We’re fighting for a playoff spot right now,” Zborosky said Friday night. “We’ve got to continue to get these wins and finish off the first half of the season on a good note.”
Zborosky’s overtime winner against the Raiders was the first extra-time goal of his WHL career.
“Considering it was my first one, it was pretty big. Considering how the game was and who we were playing, it was even bigger,” Zborosky said. “Honestly, I saw it go in and was so excited.”
With a pair of goals against the Raiders, the 6-foot, 175-pound winger also earned the first multi-goal performance of his WHL career. But apparently all of that wasn’t good enough for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft-eligible forward.
Zborosky took advantage of an error by Oil Kings goaltender Tristan Jarry midway through the third period, setting up forward Matt Alfaro for what stood as the deciding marker Saturday.
“Zborosky decided to go behind the net and pressure [Jarry] and he had no option,” Alfaro said, recalling his game-winning tally. “I was open in front of the net and [Zborosky] got it out to me.
“I knew I had to one-time it because I knew Jarry and the defenceman were sliding in trying to block it, so I decided to get it in as fast as I could.”
After going without a point through the first 13 games of the season, Alfaro has found a bit more offensive touch in recent weeks, chipping in with three goals and five assists through the past 10 games.
“I had a slow start to the year coming off wrist surgery,” Alfaro said. “It’s good to chip in offensively, especially with Sam [Reinhart] gone. It’s always nice to get that from your second- and third-line guys.”
With Reinhart in Toronto at Team Canada Selection Camp ahead of the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, Tim Bozon continued to be a catalyst for the offence this weekend, earning three assists.
Everyone in attendance at Western Financial Place thought the native of Valbonne, France, had a power-play goal to add to his totals Friday night.
The Montreal Canadiens prospect took a backdoor pass at the side of the Raiders net and fired a laser towards the gaping cage.
The red light went on. The referee signalled a goal. Western Financial Place erupted as the 20-year-old Bozon gave the Ice a 3-2 lead.
Or did he?
“Myself and him [Raiders goaltender Rylan Parenteau] were the only ones on the ice that knew the puck didn’t go in,” Bozon said with a smile Friday night. “I was just asking the ref, because I thought [Parenteau] might have saved it behind the [goal] line…But he made a great save. For sure, I have to bury that, but you have to give credit to him as well.
“I had an empty net and I thought I would score for sure. But the goalie came up with a great save at the last second — a highlight-reel save.”
The goal would have been the third power-play marker of the night for the Kootenay Ice, but after a long review it was called back.
Despite being stonewalled by Parenteau, Bozon and the Kootenay Ice power play continued to roll this weekend, scoring three goals on 11 opportunities for a 27.3 per-cent success rate. As of Sunday afternoon, the Ice man advantage has climbed to 11th in the WHL (26-for-125, 20.8 per cent), after suffering through a slow start to the season.
“We have five pretty skilled guys that can move the puck and produce,” said Bozon, who finished Friday night with two power-play helpers. “Once we had everybody back in the lineup, we all knew that the power play would come and get better.”
The Ice welcome Bozon’s former club, the Kamloops Blazers (12-18-3-2), to Western Financial Place Tuesday night. The Tuesday tilt is the last for the Ice prior to the holiday break. The Ice return to action Dec. 27 when the Calgary Hitmen (18-11-1-2) visit Cranbrook.
Notes: Ice D Dylan Overdyk (concussion) missed his 11th game and D Tanner Faith (upper body) missed his fourth game Saturday night…Ice F Sam Reinhart missed his first two games after traveling to Toronto for Team Canada Selection Camp… Also chipping in with multi-point weekends for the Ice were F Luke Philp (1G, 2A), F Jaedon Descheneau (1G, 2A) and F Ryan Chynoweth (1G, 1A)…