Kootenay Ice forward Austin Vetterl made the Lethbridge Hurricanes pay for a costly error Tuesday night, cashing in on a turnover to give his team a 2-0 lead late in the first period.
Vetterl’s shorthanded tally stood as the eventual game-winning goal in a 4-1 Kootenay Ice triumph over the Lethbridge Hurricanes in front of 2,000 fans at Western Financial Place.
The win was a critical one as it kept the Ice one point ahead of the Edmonton Oil Kings for the first wild-card seed in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
The best part about Vetterl’s 11th goal of the season?
He didn’t even realize it was the deciding marker.
“I didn’t know it was the game-winning goal,” Vetterl said with a laugh Tuesday night. “I came off the bench on the penalty kill. A guy wheeled from the net, kind of with his head down. He kind of looked up at the last second and tried to cut to the middle really quick and he lost his balance. I turned and luckily, right before he was about to chip it up the ice I lifted his stick and kind of kicked it with my skate.
“Chynner [Ryan Chynoweth] skated on to it and he obviously made a nice pass to me and I put it into the empty net. It was an easy goal.”
Though Vetterl’s shorthanded marker may have come easily courtesy a two-on-none with Chynoweth, getting pucks past former Kootenay Ice goaltender Jayden Sittler was not an easy task the rest of the night.
Sittler earned the start in net for the Hurricanes Tuesday and made a handful of spectacular saves, including two of which could arguably be save-of-the-year candidates.
Looking for his second of the night early in the second period, Vetterl snuck in alone on Sittler. Just as the Red Deer native appeared down and out, he threw an old-fashioned pad stack to close up the net before getting his glove on Vetterl’s attempt.
Even though the stop prevented a home-team goal, 2,000 home-team fans applauded Sittler’s efforts.
“You had to get that puck and you had to put it upstairs quick or he was going to get across and he was going to make the save tonight,” Vetterl said of Sittler. “Props to him.”
The 6-foot-1 netminder kept his team in the game all night long. By the time the final buzzer sounded, he had turned aside 42 shots.
If his second-period save on Vetterl wasn’t enough for the highlight reel, Sittler did his best to top it in the third period.
With Ice forwards Tim Bozon and Sam Reinhart bearing down and no defender in sight, Sittler did all he could to stick with the high-flying stars as they exchanged passes before Reinhart sent a shot low along the ice. Despite sliding to his right and away from Reinhart, Sittler stretched out before managing to trap the puck and keep his team within two goals.
Once again, fans in Western Financial Place voiced their appreciation for the visiting goaltender’s efforts.
But the Sittler wall could only withstand so much battering, eventually giving way to Jaedon Descheneau, who deposited his 30th goal of the season moments later. The Edmonton native provided the Ice with a 3-0 lead and put the game out of reach for the Hurricanes.
Ice forward Luke Philp was the first to beat Sittler Tuesday night, opening the scoring 1:17 into the festivities.
Philp’s 29th goal of the campaign was a nice one as he picked the far side of the net behind Sittler.
It was a memorable tally for the 19-year-old native of Canmore, Alta., as it also registered as the 200th point of his WHL career. Philp is the 14th player in Ice franchise history to hit the 200-point plateau.
“I had no idea,” Philp said. “It’s just another goal, I guess. I wasn’t too sure, but I’m pretty happy to do it.”
Through 220 career WHL games, all with the Kootenay Ice, Philp has tallied 81 goals and 120 assists for 201 points.
He established a career high for assists with 48 helpers this season. His career high of 31 goals, established during the 2013-14 season, is well within reach as he sits at 29 goals with five games remaining.
“He means everything. He’s a leader in the room, he talks in the room,” Vetterl said of Philp. “He plays hard. He scores goals. He’s on the first power play and second line. He’s a lot to this team and he’s a great player.”
The Hurricanes busted Wyatt Hoflin’s shutout attempt with 1:04 remaining in regulation as Giorgio Estephan cashed in shorthanded.
Bozon rounded out the scoring with an empty-net goal in the dying moments.
Hoflin finished the night with 26 saves for his 33rd win of the season. Heading into Tuesday’s tilt, the native of Sherwood Park, Alta., was 50 stops shy of the Kootenay Ice record for saves in a season (1,724) established by Tim Winters during the franchise’s inaugural season in Edmonton (1996-97).
The 20-year-old puck-stopper is now within 24 saves of the mark and could very well surpass it when the Kootenay Ice host the Medicine Hat Tigers at Western Financial Place Friday night.
Notes: The Kootenay Ice scratched D Bryan Allbee, D Dylan Overdyk, F Austin Wellsby and D Tanner Faith (shoulder, three to five months) Tuesday…The Lethbridge Hurricanes went without G Brandon Kegler, D Andrew Nielsen (upper body), F Jaeger White (upper body) and D Brandon Kennedy (lower body)…