With two home games on the slate this weekend, there’s a good chance the Kootenay Ice will have a new franchise all-time leader in saves by the time all is said and done.
With 20 saves, goaltender Wyatt Hoflin will surpass longtime Ice net minder Nathan Lieuwen (4,188 saves) and lay claim to the all-time franchise record for saves made.
Hoflin was his usual stellar self Wednesday night against the Brandon Wheat Kings, adding 36 stops to his career total, which now sits at 4,169 heading into Friday’s contest with the Edmonton Oil Kings (7 p.m. at Western Financial Place).
The record has been a topic of conversation around Cranbrook for some time now and when first asked about it, Hoflin responded in cool but lighthearted fashion.
“Obviously, with a couple better games here and there, it would have come a lot sooner,” the 21-year-old native of Spruce Grove, Alta., said with a smile Feb. 4.
“It’s huge for me. For where I came from when I started here and the goalies that have been here, for me to get as much time in the net as I have, it’s a huge accomplishment for me and the hard work I’ve put in.”
Night in and night out, Hoflin has been arguably the best player for the Kootenay Ice in what has been a difficult 2015-16 Western Hockey League campaign.
Wednesday was no different.
Despite suffering a 4-2 defeat to the Brandon Wheat Kings, Hoflin stood tall, making 36 saves — many of the show-stopping variety — and was named the second star of the game.
“He has been great all year,” said Ice rookie Jared Legien Wednesday night. “He’s been our backbone all year. He makes saves that you can’t even imagine. He doesn’t just do it once or twice, he does it three or four times in a game. His focus is unbelievable. He’s a great goaltender.”
Not only has Hoflin been great all year, he has been great throughout his career with the Ice, establishing countless records, including wins in a season (36, 2014-15) appearances in a season (67, 2014-15), minutes played in a season (3,848, 2014-15) and consecutive games played by a goaltender (29).
Earlier this season, Hoflin surpassed 150 games played and 8,000 minutes played in his WHL career. Since then, the veteran has climbed to 155 games played with 8,363 minutes in the crease. Both milestones represent plateaus hit by a select group of Kootenay goaltenders.
Only Lieuwen (178) has played more than 150 games, while Jeff Glass (8,206 minutes) and Lieuwen (9,781 minutes) are the only others to have also surpassed 8,000 minutes played.
Whether Hoflin gets the start Friday night remains to be seen, but should he get the green light, there’s no doubt he will surpass Lieuwen for the saves mark.
The last time Hoflin faced Friday’s opponent — the Oil Kings — he saw 42 pucks come his way, turning aside 36 in a 6-2 loss Jan. 31 at Edmonton.
The last time the Oil Kings visited Cranbrook on Feb. 2, they fired 31 pucks at backup Declan Hobbs, so you know the shots will come.
“They’re extremely structured and they do a fantastic job of sticking to their plan,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice. “That’s something our guys really need to start to realize. [The Oil Kings] certainly have talent, but I don’t think they have the depth of skill that a lot of our other opponents have, but their system works for them and it works very well.
“Nights we’ve had success, our system has worked very well. We need to stick to that plan. We’ve got to be patient against them. They’re a tough team to play against and they don’t give up a lot. But we’ve played them well at times and then we’ve gotten away from our game, like the last time they were here. They can hurt you. Patience will be key.”
The Oil Kings (26-28-6-1) hold down the second wildcard position heading into Friday’s contest and are fresh off a 5-1 victory over the Portland Winterhawks (31-27-3-0), who visit Cranbrook Saturday evening.
Friday night also features as Pink the Rink night at Western Financial Place. Fans are encouraged to sport their hottest pink attire in support of anti-bullying initiatives around the East Kootenay.
Puck drop between the Ice (10-45-5-0) and Oil Kings is slated for 7 p.m. at Western Financial Place.