Justin Gutierrez and the Hurricanes.
Sounds like a really great name for a rock band.
Unfortunately for the Kootenay Ice, it was the Gutierrez show leading the Lethbridge Hurricanes to a 3-2 victory in Western Hockey League action Saturday night.
The 19-year-old native of Anchorage, Alaska, provided all the offense for the visitors, registering a hat trick.
“We were pressing and we were feeling hard — our ‘D’ were pinching down at the start of the game — we wanted to set the momentum,” Gutierrez said following Saturday’s win.
“We’re a fast team. We want to play to that advantage. We’re definitely using our speed and we have a lot of skill up front.”
Set the momentum indeed.
The Hurricanes grabbed all of it through the opening 40 minutes of play, outshooting the host Ice by a 38-11 margin.
“We didn’t sacrifice and work nearly as hard as we need to as a whole group,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice. “We had some individuals who played and played hard with passion, but we’ve got some guys — early in the game — that aren’t ready to play.
“The group that played in the third period is the group I want to coach.”
The quick start was fed on the scoreboard by the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Gutierrez, who was a pain in and around the crease all night.
The overage forward opened the scoring 4:17 into the first period and after Ice forward Dylan Stewart knotted it 1-1 on the man advantage to close out the opening 20 minutes, Gutierrez returned to pot a power-play goal of his own 6:03 into the second.
Before the opening 40 minutes expired, the veteran of 212 WHL regular season games had collected his first-career WHL hat trick.
“My linemates — on all three [goals] — they set me up,” Gutierrez said. “I got a tap in on the first one. Second one, I got a nice pass and the third one, Brayden Burke found me right in the slot. All I had to do was just tap all of them in. It was all because of them.”
Burke finished the night with two helpers, pulling into a two-way tie for first in the WHL in assists (33) alongside Seattle Thunderbirds star Mathew Barzal.
To top it all off, Gutierrez was named the first star of the game and as he hit the ice for his curtain call, he saluted a large section of Hurricanes fans that made the trek from Lethbridge for the Central Division contest.
“The fans have gone through so much with this team in the past five years,” Gutierrez said. “All we want to do is give back to them, win games for them. When they come on the road and we can get a win, it’s great.”
Though Gutierrez and the Hurricanes took centre stage and rocked through the opening 40 minutes of play, the Ice made sure there was at least a little bit of drama before the final buzzer sounded.
“Don’t worry about winning the game — worry about how much you care to play and how hard you can work,” Pierce said. “Get involved. Get to the net. The game is supposed to be played by men and you’re supposed to get bumped and bruised and cut and teeth knocked out. You have to have that level of intensity and the desire.
“We did that in the third period and you see what happens — you make a really good team panic a little bit. You put pressure on them and you get opportunities.”
With 1:26 of power-play time remaining on the clock to start the third period as Carter Folk served two minutes for checking to the head, Ice alternate captain Matt Alfaro clawed his team within one goal only 1:21 into the third period.
That sparked a third-period surge from the hosts, who went on to outshoot the visitors 12-5 in the period.
“We knew during the intermission it was a big power play and if we got a goal there we’d be right back into the game,” Alfaro said.
“It was a good push, a show of character,” Alfaro said. “Thursday night in Lethbridge, we kind of rolled over and didn’t fight back. It was good we [fought back] tonight. I’m proud of the group of guys in that dressing room.”
Unfortunately, it was too little, too late for the Ice.
Hurricanes goaltender Stuart Skinner was as steady as his squad needed him to be, making 21 saves.
At the other end of the rink, 20-year-old Wyatt Hoflin put forth another lights-out performance to give his team a shot at a win.
“Hoflin is one of our best players and we need him every night,” Alfaro said. “He performed well tonight and he kept us in the game. He gave us a chance to win at the end.”
The native of Spruce Grove, Alta., made 40 stops — including 35 through the opening 40 minutes of play — and was named the second star of the night.
Once again, the Ice were short-handed as coach Pierce only had 17 skaters at his disposal.
Making his return to the lineup was rookie defenceman Jason Wenzel, who had previously missed five games due to headaches.
With the loss, the Ice fall to 6-19-2-0 on the season, while the Hurricanes (17-9-0-0) continue to keep pace with the division-leading Red Deer Rebels (19-8-0-0) and Calgary Hitmen (16-10-1-1).
The Ice hit the road for a five-game swing through the B.C. Division, beginning Dec. 1 in Kamloops.
The Hurricanes will look to take sole possession of second place in the WHL’s Central Division when they host the Hitmen on Dec. 2.
Daily Townsman Three Stars: 1) C Justin Gutierrez, Lethbridge Hurricanes (3G) 2) G Wyatt Hoflin, Kootenay Ice (40 saves)3) RW Brayden Burke, Lethbridge Hurricanes (2A)
Notes: The Ice were without D Tyler King (knee), C Luke Philp (ankle), RW Jaedon Descheneau (shoulder), RW Shane Allan (third game of four-game suspension), RW Zak Zborosky (lower body) and RW River Beattie (head)… The Hurricanes went with D Igor Merezhko and C Ryan Vandervlis… Hurricanes LW Egor Babenko tallied two assists as the final piece of the unit alongside Gutierrez and Burke… 1,942 was the announced attendance in Cranbrook Saturday…