Offense has not been the easiest thing to come by for the Kootenay Ice to this point in the 2015-16 Western Hockey League campaign, averaging only 2.12 goals per game, having scored 146 times through 69 contests.
Splitting a home-and-home weekend with the Medicine Hat Tigers, the Ice managed to tally seven times across the two outings for an average of 3.5 goals per game, a substantial uptick in relation to their seasonal output so far.
Helping spark the outburst was sophomore forward River Beattie, who scored under every possible circumstance — tallying on the power play and while shorthanded Friday, before opening the scoring at even strength Saturday.
“I was moving my feet a little, bit better, but at the end of the day, I was getting good bounces and able to capitalize,” Beattie said of his scoring efforts this past weekend.
“It feels good and we need [scoring] from other guys with [Matt] Alfaro being injured. We need more guys chipping in offensively.”
Thanks to his four-point weekend, Beattie — an 18-year-old native of Sherwood Park, Alta. — has posted career highs across the board in his sophomore season with the Ice. With eight goals, five assists and 13 points to his credit through 56 games, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound winger has easily eclipsed the totals he put forth in his 63-game rookie season (5-4-9).
“He is skating, it’s amazing how different the game can be when you want to move your feet,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice.
“I don’t know if maybe the energy reserves are empty — we’ve played a lot of hockey, we’re short a lot of bodies and we’ve got a young group — so fatigue’s kicking in a little and guys aren’t skating as well. But if you can find a way to move your legs, you’ll have success.”
Friday, Beattie registered his sixth goal of the campaign with a shorthanded effort in Medicine Hat. Jumping off a faceoff, the gritty forward skated in alone after catching the Tigers off guard before beating goaltender Nick Schneider. On his power-play effort, Beattie covered much of the ice surface, picking his way through four Tigers before beating Schneider for his seventh goal of the season.
Saturday, Beattie won a puck battle in the corner before cutting to the net and sneaking a shot under Schneider’s arm.
With Alfaro — the team’s second-leading scorer — still on the shelf due to an upper-body injury, Beattie’s increased contributions remain critical as the Ice play out the final stretch of the regular season.
While the Ice will miss out on the WHL post-season for the first time in 18 years, there remains motivation with three games left on the slate.
With the Tigers and Edmonton Oil Kings embroiled in a tight race for the Eastern Conference’s final wildcard playoff position, the Ice have been afforded and opportunity to factor into the equation.
“We want to play spoiler, obviously,” Beattie said. “We want to go as hard as we can. We have to finish this season off and continue to build into next season. We’re not going to stop.
“The Oil Kings are going to come in hot. They’re going to give it everything they have. They’re going to fight. They’re in a bit of a dog fight right now and they know what they have to do. We’ll just try to do what we can to upset that.”
With a 4-3 regulation victory Saturday, the Ice did what they could to cool the Tigers (29-36-3-2, 63 points), who are trying desperately to catch the Oil Kings (29-33-6-1, 65).
The Oil Kings hold one game in hand and it comes Tuesday when they pay a visit to Western Financial Place in Cranbrook.
After Tuesday’s date with Edmonton, the Ice finish out the 2015-16 WHL regular season in a home-and-home affair with the Calgary Hitmen (39-26-2-2). The Hitmen visit Cranbrook Friday (7 p.m.) before playing host at the Scotiabank Saddledome Sunday (1 p.m.).