Another night, another lapse late in regulation for the Kootenay Ice.
Friday at Western Financial Place, it was the Saskatoon Blades scoring late to force overtime, before using the open ice of three-on-three hockey to steal a 4-3 victory from the home team.
“We need guys to understand what it takes to win — it’s the ultimate sacrifice at times, and it’s not just late at the end of the third [period],” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, following Friday’s defeat.
“We’re trying to pass the buck to too many other people right now.”
With 2:06 remaining in regulation and a 3-2 Kootenay Ice lead on the scoreboard, Blades defenceman Libor Hajek found a way to beat Ice goaltender Declan Hobbs to tie the game 3-3 and force the extra period.
After the two teams exchanged scoring opportunities, including a pair from Ice veterans Luke Philp and Zak Zborosky, it was Blades centre Cameron Hebig lugging the puck the length of the ice and beating Hobbs on a breakaway effort to complete the comeback for the visitors.
Despite the loss, the Ice scraped out one single point for getting into overtime, but it was no consolation to Ice captain Luke Philp following the game.
“We don’t have enough guys playing hard enough. That’s why we’re losing games,” Philp said Friday. “We’re relying on a few guys to carry the load right now and we need more out of a lot of guys.”
Philp and Zborosky have been the driving force behind the Ice offense all season long.
That didn’t change Friday night as the two veterans were the most dangerous combination out there on either side of the puck.
It looked as though the Ice were set to snap a three-game losing streak after Philp put the hosts in front early in the third period.
Philp and Zborosky moved the puck back and forth nicely before Philp, the newly-minted captain, fired it past a helpless Brock Hamm to give the home team a 3-2 edge 4:57 into the third period.
Unfortunately for the home team, Philp’s efforts were in vain as the Blades’ erased the lead before moving on to victory.
“Guys have to make harder plays and we need players playing more to their role and not trying to be something they’re not,” Philp said.
The two teams battled back and forth through 40 minutes.
Newly-acquired Ice forward Dylan Stewart opened the scoring on his first shift in his first game with his new club, putting a puck past Hamm only 1:52 into the first period of play.
“It was definitely nice, it got me feeling confident early in the game,” Stewart said. “It just felt good to get the first one out of the way.
“I was just carrying the puck in and I shot it on net. We ended up getting it back on the forecheck and Shane [Allan] made a nice play to throw it at the net and I just banged it in. It felt good.”
While Stewart opened the scoring early in the first, it was Blades veteran defenceman Brycen Martin tying things up late in the period, sending a shot from a tough angle that found a way past Hobbs with only 13.2 seconds remaining on the clock.
In the second period, it was the Blades striking to claim their first lead of the game as Cameron Hausinger deflected a point shot from Hajek, beating Hobbs for a 2-1 Saskatoon lead with 3:32 remaining.
After Hausinger’s pretty deflection led to a goal in the Kootenay end, Ice Zborosky did his best to match the effort, blazing through the middle of the zone to redirect a Luke Philp centring feed past Hamm, knotting the game 2-2 heading into the second intermission.
It was a penalty-filled affair early Friday night as the Blades were tagged for four minor penalties in the first period, another in the second and one more in the third. Once again, the 22nd-ranked Ice power play was unable to cash in.
“Special teams, they call them special for a reason — they’re supposed to be special players,” Pierce said. “Our effort level needs to be much better. That killed all momentum in that period. We could have put the game away there. We’re just getting tired of saying the same things.
“It’s like they’re taking some sort of sleepy gas when they get out on the power play. We drop our momentum or our effort level and that’s exactly the wrong thing to do.”
On the other side of the puck, the Ice were sent to the sin bin four times, one of which was a bench minor for too many men on the ice. Like the hosts, the Blades were unable to convert with the man advantage.
For Pierce, despite holding a 2-10-1-0 start, there are positives to build off and he emphasized that Friday night.
“Work ethic and compete is still getting a lot better, it’s in special situations — power play, end of the games, end of the periods, important shifts — that’s where we’re still not where we need to be,” Pierce said. “I think we’ve brought our work ethic up tremendously. That’s why we’re in every game. We could’ve won our last five [games] no problem if we would have had that little bit extra.
“We’ve got our main effort there. You just have to find that extra little bit because other teams are finding it. I don’t think our guys realize how hard they can push themselves and what they’re capable of doing. I’m tired of the broken record and the same old movie playing over and over.”
Hobbs finished the night with 31 stops on 35 shots, while Hamm was good on 29 of 32.
The Ice hit the road for two games, beginning Saturday night in Red Deer against the Rebels, before moving on to a Monday night match up against the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Daily Townsman Three Stars:
1) C Luke Philp, Kootenay Ice (1G, 1A) 2) G Declan Hobbs, Kootenay Ice (31 saves)3) C Dylan Stewart, Kootenay Ice (1G)
Notes: The Ice went without D Cale Fleury (upper body), D Tyler King (knee), RW Jaedon Descheneau (upper body) and RW Max Patterson (upper body)… The Blades were without the services of RW Mason McCarty (illness), RW Connor Gay (suspension) and D Anthony Bishop (upper body)… Blades D Libor Hajek finished the night with three points (1G, 2A)… 1,944 fans took in the action Friday at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook…