Even though they chose the hard way, the Kootenay Ice found a way to get two points, defeating the Regina Pats 4-3 in overtime Friday night at Western Financial Place.
With less than two minutes remaining in the extra period, Kootenay Ice defenceman Rinat Valiev made his way towards Pats goaltender Daniel Wapple. After parking himself on Wapple’s doorstep, Valiev was in prime position to grab the extra point for the home team.
“I just go to the net. Sam [Reinhart] shoot and I tipped it,” Valiev said Friday night. “There was rebound for me and I’m lucky to score.”
Valiev, a native of Nizhnekamsk, Russia, and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, is typically the blue-line quarterback and orchestrator of the offense from the point. Under these circumstance, he traded off with Reinhart before sneaking down low for his seventh goal of the campaign.
Valiev’s tally brought forth a roar that was one part jubilation and one part relief from the 2,152 in attendance at Western Financial Place.
After opening up a 3-0 advantage on the Pats in the second period, the Ice allowed the visitors to score three consecutive goals, including two in a span of 31 seconds in the third period, forcing overtime.
“It shows we have good character,” said Kootenay Ice forward Matt Alfaro Friday night. “We’re willing to fight back even though we blew a lead like that. It’s a good challenge for the team and it’s a good team win.”
After Pats captain Braden Christoffer got his team on the scoreboard late in the second period, Austin Wagner and Pavel Padakin scored back-to-back stingers to even things up in the third period.
Scoring came in bunches for both teams Friday. Only 31 seconds split Wagner’s and Padakin’s markers for the Pats, while Matt Alfaro, Reinhart and Austin Vetterl all sent pucks past Wapple in succession within a span of 2:25 in the second period.
“Getting the first [goal], everyone kind of loosened up a bit and started being a little bit more creative and not just shooting the puck blindly,” Alfaro said. “Once we did that our skill came out.”
Alfaro started the rapid-fire scoring with his seventh of the campaign 15:19 into the second period.
“Descheneau brought the puck over the blue-line and he decided to cut across the middle and give it to [Tyler] King,” Alfaro said. “I just drove to the net and it went off my stick and in.”
Despite being tagged with four goals against, Wapple stood on his head for the greater part of the contest, stonewalling Ice forwards Tim Bozon and Reinhart at various points in the night. The native of Saskatoon finished the night with 39 stops to help his team collect a valuable road point.
At the other end, Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin made 24 saves for his 26th win of the season.
Following Wednesday’s 6-3 loss on the road to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the Ice (27-23-0-1, 55 points) used Friday’s win to stay one point ahead of the Edmonton Oil Kings (24-21-4-2, 54) for the first wild-card slot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
“[Friday] was a big game for us,” Valiev said. “We know we have to get points to make the playoffs and get a good spot in playoffs.”
The playoff push continues Saturday night as Valiev, Alfaro and the Kootenay Ice welcome Leon Draisaitl, Josh Morrissey, Madison Bowey and the Kelowna Rockets to Western Financial Place.
The Rockets roll into town fresh off a 6-3 road victory over the Lethbridge Hurricanes Friday night.
“We know Kelowna is a pretty good team. They have most points in league,” Valiev said. “We have to just play hard.”
Fuelled by a star-studded lineup, the Rockets have soared to a WHL-best record of 38-8-3-1, making them the first team in the league to reach the 80-point plateau this season.
“We expect what their record says of them. We know they’re a good team,” Alfaro said of the Rockets. “They’re very deep from the trades they made at the deadline. We know we can keep pace if we play out best. We know if we keep playing hard, it will be a close game.”
Puck drop between the Rockets and Ice is slated for 7 p.m. at Western Financial Place.
In addition to the Rockets, the super-fan group known as the Green Men will be gracing Western Financial Place with their presence Saturday night. The two Vancouver Canucks super-fan stars will drop the puck in a ceremonial face-off prior to the game and also be on hand for photos and autographs, with proceeds going towards kidney cancer research.
Notes: Kootenay Ice F Ryan Chynoweth skated in his 200th career WHL game Friday… The Ice scratched D Tanner Lishchynsky (illness), D Dylan Overdyk, F Austin Wellsby and D Tanner Faith (shoulder, four to six months)…The Pats scratched F Adam Brooks, D Ryan Krushen and D Nathyn Mortlock…Ice F Sam Reinhart (4-10-14) extended his point streak to 10 games with a goal and an assist…