Forward Matt Alfaro (#21) slides the game-winning goal past goaltender Landon Bow Saturday night as the Kootenay Ice edged the Swift Current Broncos 2-1 in regulation.

Back to back home wins boost Kootenay Ice

Late strikes lead Ice to victory over Moose Jaw Warriors Friday and Swift Current Broncos Saturday

They say lightning doesn’t strike twice.

Whoever “they” might be forgot to tell the Kootenay Ice.

Desperately in need of a win, Luke Pierce’s club used late-game heroics on back-to-back nights to score consecutive victories for the first time this season, downing the Moose Jaw Warriors 2-1 in overtime Friday and the Swift Current Broncos 2-1 in regulation Saturday.

“It’s nice to get a win without going to overtime [Saturday],” Pierce said. “We can’t keep giving points away to teams ahead of us in the standings. People might think — what are you talking about, standings?

“It matters to us. We believe we’ve got an opportunity to work ourselves back to a playoff spot. You have to start stringing wins together.”

And string wins together the Ice did.

Friday night, defenceman Cale Fleury was the hero jumping off the bench late in overtime to score the deciding goal — his first of the season.

You could hear the sophomore defenceman shout all the way up in the rafters of Western Financial Place, and from behind his own blue-line, Matt Alfaro heard him as well, hitting Fleury in stride.

The 17-year-old native of Calgary sent electricity through the building as he made a sly move, protecting the puck against a Warriors defender before fooling goaltender Brody Willms and calmly tickling the twine.

“I just knew I had a step on their last defenceman there, so I was calling really loud for the puck. I really wanted it,” Fleury said with a grin Friday. “I knew I had a step on him so I could drive the net and take it to the other side. I was luck enough for it to go in.

“I hate to be a cliche, but it was definitely a monkey off the back. It feels good.”

The monkey Fleury speaks of had a two-handed grab — Friday’s triumph spelled the end of a four-game losing streak for the Ice and the goal that won it was Fleury’s first of the year.

“There’s no better feeling in hockey,” Pierce said. “Just an outstanding play.

“Cale Fleury is a hockey player — play and simple. That was a heck of a play by him. He had a great game [Friday].”

Fleury was called upon in overtime after the Warriors forced the extra session late in regulation.

With an offensive zone face-off looming and only 2:07 remaining on the clock, Warriors head coach Tim Hunter called for timeout and beckoned Willms to the bench for the extra attacker.

That decision paid off in spades for the Moose Jaw bench boss as Noah Gregor collected a loose puck off the ensuing face-off, beating Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin to knot the game 1-1 with 2:03 to play.

Though Willms was victimized in overtime, there was no way to blame him for the Warriors shortcoming Friday.

The native of Coquitlam, B.C., was strong, turning aside 30 of the 32 shots sent his way. At the other end, Wyatt Hoflin made 25 saves including 13 in the third period to backstop his club.

Of note Friday was the absence of Warriors captain Brayden Point, who missed the game due to an undisclosed injury.

On the flip side, the Ice were buoyed by the return of their captain as Luke Philp was back in the lineup after missing two games with an upper-body injury.

The 20-year-old native of Canmore, Alta., opened the scoring for his club.

“It’s funny. It’s an interesting phenomenon,” Pierce said. “You add a guy like that back into your lineup and what it does for the rest of your players — he scored the lone goal but we had several other chances and we could’ve been up three- or four-nothing.

“So many other players played well. Even guys that weren’t on the ice with [Philp]. It’s funny how that works. I think you flip it the other way with [the Warriors] not having Brayden Point in their lineup, I thought they looked a little dejected early in the game. I’m sure he would’ve been a difference-maker for them from a morale standpoint.”

After Friday’s emotional win over the Warriors, Saturday shaped up to be another emotional outing as longtime Ice forward Jon Martin — traded earlier this season — made his return to Cranbrook as a member of the Swift Current Broncos.

While Alfaro set up Friday’s fireworks, he took care of the whole show late in Saturday’s win over the Broncos.

With 1:58 to go in a 1-1 tie and with his club working diligently to kill off a five-minute charging major to Shane Allan, Alfaro forced a turnover at the Ice blue-line before breaking in alone on Broncos goaltender Landon Bow.

With miles of open space, the 19-year-old Alfaro made no mistake as he beat the Broncos netminder to snap the 1-1 draw and help push the Kootenay Ice (6-16-2-0) to a 2-1 victory (8-14-2-0).

“I wasn’t thinking [scoring opportunity] — I was thinking just get the puck out, maybe get a stick on it and get a good break and get it the other way,” Alfaro said Saturday. “Luckily, I got it on my stick for a breakaway.

“I saw the goalie come far out and knew I couldn’t shoot. I knew I had to get around him.

“I’m not one to do big celebrations or anything, but there, I couldn’t help myself.”

While Alfaro provided Saturday’s late-game heroics on the offensive side of the puck, rookie goaltender Declan Hobbs was rock solid at the other end of the rink, turning aside 27 pucks as he collected his first-career WHL victory.

“It feels good to get that first one out of the way and hopefully there’s more to come,” Hobbs said Saturday. “It takes a load off my shoulders and I can feel better in the net now.

“It’s good to get these two wins on the weekend here.

“We got these wins because we played a lot more structured and we had a lot more work ethic in these games than we did before. If we continue to do that, we’re just going to keep getting better and better.”

The visiting Broncos opened the scoring 9:03 into the first period as import left wing Andreas Schumacher redirected a point shot from defenceman Jayden Gordon to fool Hobbs.

Not even five minutes wound down on the clock after Schumacher’s opening tally before captain Philp came to the rescue.

With the puck at the half wall on the far side of the ice, Kootenay’s leading scorer made a quick spin move to evade a defender before driving the net and finding a puck-sized hole in Bow. It took its sweet time, but the rubber eventually trickled over the goal line to tie the game 1-1 and that’s how it remained until Alfaro struck.

By the time the final buzzer sounded, the veteran Bow had turned in a 22-save effort.

Fans were treated to the most exciting play in hockey Saturday night.

With less than two minutes remaining in the second period, Broncos forward Cavin Leth was hauled down and immediately awarded a penalty shot.

Skating wide right into the zone, the 19-year-old product of Taber, Alta., tried to pull the puck to the far side, only to meet the outstretched right pad of Hobbs, who made it look all too easy.

“I couldn’t be happier for the guy tonight to finally get that [first win],” Pierce said of his rookie goaltender. “We haven’t given him a lot of run support. He knows how good he’s got to be.

“We talked after last game — [a 2-0 loss to Everett] and I know he was really frustrated with the loss — but just try not to do too much and steal games. Just give us a chance to win and eventually we’ll win one for you.

“He’s just so calm and composed right now.”

While Philp provided much-needed offense in his return this weekend, the Ice might have to once again get used to life without their captain.

Late in Saturday’s proceedings, the peppy pivot went down in a heap, his legs tangled awkwardly beneath him.

Not one to stay down, Philp was unable to get off the ice without assistance. He did not return to the contest and later left Western Financial Place on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

“I don’t want to speculate on it, but obviously it’s not good when he can’t initially put any weight on it,” Pierce said. “It’s lower body. It’s swollen.

“But his effort [Saturday] is exactly what we need. After the game, he has an ice pack on two different spots on his body.

“Those are warrior plays and we need more of that.”

While Philp’s status is still to be determined, the Ice will look to grab a third consecutive win Wednesday evening when they host the Red Deer Rebels (16-7-0-0) at Western Financial Place.

Notes: The Ice went without D Tyler King (knee), RW Jaedon Descheneau (shoulder surgery), RW Zak Zborosky (lower body), RW River Beattie (head) and D Jason Wenzel (headaches) Saturday… Ice D Troy Murray returned after serving a two-game suspension… Ice F Eli Lieffers made his WHL debut Friday… Former Ice forward Jon Martin made his first return to Cranbrook, collecting a lone assist on Schumacher’s goal… The loss for Swift Current sent the Broncos home winless (0-6-0-0) on their recent road trip… 2,329 was the announced attendance at Western Financial Place Saturday night…

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