“Here we go again.”
That was the cry of a woman in the back corner of Western Financial Place as the Swift Current Broncos scored to make it 4-2 over the Kootenay Ice at the end of the second period.
Her exasperation rang out across the building and expressed the feelings of the majority of the 1,506 fans around her, as well as the 20 Kootenay players on the ice.
The Ice ended up losing the game 5 -2, and have now lost their past four games. It was the second night in a row that they haven’t picked up a point and they’ve been bested by three goals or more.
“I thought we were good for the first ten minutes,” said head coach Luke Pierce, following the disappointing night. “We need to find a way to capitalize on teams a little better than we did [tonight] … we gave [the Broncos] an opportunity to get back in the game.
“They’re a team that plays quick. They pressured hard — much like we’re asking our guys to do — they just did a way better job of it.”
After a very tough start against Kelowna on Saturday, in which the Ice dug a 3-0 hole for themselves in the first period, Vince Loschiavo opened the scoring just 35 seconds in against the Broncos.
The feisty forward let a wrist shot go from the top of the circle that beat Travis Child for his 11th goal of the season. Although Loschiavo has now scored in each of his past six games — with seven goals and two assists in that time frame — he’s still not satisfied with the level he’s playing at.
“[Matt] Alfaro and [Zak Zborosky] have been playing really well and [on my goal, Zborosky] made a great forecheck, I got the puck and was lucky to get it in,” he said. “It’s obviously nice to contribute offensively, but the bottom line is that we have to start winning … I feel like I have more to give. In these past few games I don’t think I’ve been at my best.”
While a pair of Broncos’ goals from Conner Chaulk and Ryan Graham in the second half of the period took some of the wind out of the Ice’s sails, the top-line of Alfaro, Zborosky and Loschiavo cashed in again with Alfaro tipping in a goal less than a minute and half before the intermission.
“For the most part, they’ve been very good [and] I thought as a line they went toe-to-toe with their top line,” Pierce said on his top three forwards. “That’s certainly not our issue — production from our guys that are supposed to produce is there — it’s the rest of the group that needs to find ways to contribute to our game and not just offensively.”
After starting out strong again in the second period, the Ice lost their handle at the end of the second and let in goals to Tyler Steenbergen and Cole Johnson before heading to intermission.
In the third frame, Aleksi Heponiemi put in a double insurance marker for the Broncos to effectively end the game. Despite letting in five goals, Payton Lee made 38 saves and was once again one of the team’s brightest stars, making numerous difficult stops.
“I carry a lot on my shoulders [in these situations],” Lee said on the negative outcome. “I’m an older goalie and one of the leaders on this team, so when we lose it’s my fault.”
While Barrett Sheen ensured that his team left swinging, participating in a spirited fight with Kade Jensen to end the night, it was a somber postgame atmosphere.
“I thought we didn’t have our best practices this week, [we struggled] executing passes and [were] going through the motions,” Loschiavo said on potential factors in their loss. “We have to practice how we play because it’s going to translate into our games. If guys don’t care, it’s going to show in the game and that’s partially what happened tonight.”
Pierce agreed that their practices haven’t been at the level they need to be, but also felt that his team needs to be more supportive of one another if they want to be successful.
“We’ve tried to keep our atmosphere as light as possible around our room and the guys seem to enjoy being around each other, which is a positive,” he said. “But we’ve got to translate that into games and I think we’re still too critical of each other as teammates.”
Pierce also recognized that a lot of credit for the outcome of the game had to go to the Broncos. Swift Current outshot Kootenay 43-23 and scored all five of their goals at even-strength.
“[We] have to give our opponent some credit. I thought they changed their game drastically after the timeout in the first,” he said. “We didn’t respond well enough. We got back on our heels [and] instead of pushing back, we sat there and took it.”
The Ice now have their sights set on the weekend. They play the Kamloops Blazers at home on Saturday and then travel to Calgary on Sunday to play the Hitmen before getting a week off for the Christmas holidays.
Although the Blazers will be playing their sixth of a seven-game road trip at Western Financial Place, and are without all-star goalie Connor Ingram, who has been selected to Canada’s World Juniors team, Pierce knows it will still be a very tough match.
“[The Blazers] are a good hockey team,” he said. “They could be playing their fourth in three days and they’d still be a tough team to play.
“They work extremely hard and [their backup goalie Dylan] Ferguson was the [WHL] goalie of the Week last week, so there’s nothing about their trip or the absence of Connor Ingram that will make them an easier team to play… we’re going to have to be ready for [that game].”
According to Pierce, the last two games before their break are vitally important.
“You don’t want that week [off] as a coach or a player to be one where you’re still mad about the way you finished,” he said. “You want to go home and talk to your family about how excited you are about the way you’re playing [and that] things are going good.
“We hope our leadership can find a way to push our guys.”
At the end of the day however, both the coach and players alike are still trying their hardest to keep things enjoyable. For Pierce however, maximizing fun isn’t something you can do without giving the game your all.
“At the end of day, the foundation of the game is fun. That’s what the game was created for, so that people would enjoy it,” he said. “It’s not fun, it’s not enjoyable when you can’t have success, but really hard work becomes enjoyable and that’s where your fun will start.
“You’ll start to see yourself get better [and] see your teammates have success and that’s what makes the game fun.”
Puck drop for Saturday’s contest is at 7 p.m. It’s the only time this year that the Ice will face off against the Blazers.