It seems the WHL made the right choice to broadcast the Kootenay Ice and the Calgary Hitmen in the first round of the post-season.
The two teams put on a show Monday night, scoring six times each in regulation before Greg Chase ended it in overtime for a 7-6 final that put Calgary up 2-1 in the series.
The Hitmen blew four separate leads before Kootenay countered, and it was Calgary who played catch up in the third period to force the extra frame.
The Ice got a pair of goals from Jagger Dirk, while Luke Philp, Sam Reinhart, Zach Franko and Jaedon Descheneau also provided offence.
For the Hitmen, Landon Welykholowa scored twice for the second time in as many games, while Radel Fazleev also tallied a pair. Adam Tambellini, Travis Sandheim and Chase rounded out the goals for Calgary.
The Ice powerplay was ridiculous, scoring five times in six chances with the man-advantage—an aspect of Kootenay’s game that has certainly gotten into the heads of the Hitmen players.
“It’s pretty hard, I think we just have to make a couple of adjustments, but yeah, if we just stay disciplined, I know they’ll have a better chance not scoring, because their powerplay is pretty deadly,” said Hitmen forward Jake Virtanen. “If we just stay out of the box, that’s going to be really important for the coming games here.”
With eight powerplay goals in three games, the Ice have certainly shown they can take full advantage of their opportunities with the man-advantage.
“I think we’ve had the best powerplay on the road and one of the best all-around,” said Descheneau, who had a six-point night with five assists and a goal. “It’s our intimidation to other teams and we want to keep drawing penalties, because it’s a huge thing for us.”
Despite the effectiveness on the powerplay, the team needed to be better at even-strength, Descheneau added.
“There’s a lot of positives in the game,” he added. “We scored five powerplay goals, we killed off a five-on-three, so our special teams were good, we just gotta tighten up on our five-on-five and we should be fine.
“There should be no problems moving forward—we did a lot of good things today going into tomorrow’s game.”
Kootenay goaltender Mackenzie Skapski had a tough night, giving up seven goals in 28 shots. Kootenay had a slight edge on the shot clock, putting 31 pucks on Calgary netminder Chris Driedger, who made 25 saves.
For the third straight game, the Hitmen scored first on an early goal, with Welykholowa banging in a feed from Tambellini at the side of the net.
Luke Philp replied on Kootenay’s first powerplay, beating Driedger with a low shot from just inside the blue line.
Kootenay also made a big penalty kill with 32 seconds of a two-man advantage for Calgary and handling the remainder of the five-on-four after Rinat Valiev and Dirk were sent to the box 1:28 apart.
In the second period, Welykholowa pulled the Hitmen ahead, but Franko answered back for the Ice with another powerplay goal.
Adam Tambellini tallied roughly a minute later, using a Kootenay defenceman as a screen.
However, the goals came quick in the second half of the period.
Kootenay’s powerplay went to work again and after a big pileup outside of the crease, Reinhart roofed the puck to even the score up at 4-4 at 13:29.
Not even 60 seconds later, Fazleev got his first of the game off a lucky deflection from a pass in Kootenay territory. That got Skapski pulled for the remainder of the period.
A minute after that, Dirk scored the only even-strength goal for the Ice to knot it back up again.
Descheneau gave Kootenay their first lead with 13 seconds left in the second frame, scoring the fourth powerplay goal to do so.
Just five minutes into the third period, Sandheim flicked the puck on net after entering the zone, which went off the post and in for a 5-5 score. Dirk got his second of the game five minutes later for Kootenay’s fifth powerplay goal, scoring top shelf stick side on Driedger to retake the lead.
After Dirk put Kootenay ahead, Fazleev only needed 37 seconds to put it back to a tie for Calgary, which would stand for the rest of regulation.
The momentum shifted both ways in overtime; Kootenay had some good early pressure, with a notable chance from Matt Alfaro, but Chase scored the game-winner for the Hitmen with a slap shot from a drop pass off the rush 5:05 into the period.
The two teams will go head-to-head again on Tuesday night for Game Four at Western Financial Place.
NOTES: Kootenay Ice defenceman Landon Cross returned from injury to what had been a short-staffed defensive corps, which is also missing Tyler King. Hitman F Brady Brassart was hit into a turnbuckle and left briefly for the dressing room, but soon returned to the bench. After Skapski was pulled in the second period, Hoflin played roughly six minutes and made two saves. Skapski returned for the third frame. Kootenay forward Tim Bozon, who is recovering from meningitis at a hospital in Saskatoon, had his 20th birthday on Monday.