You might not think much could change in a 24-hour period, but the Kootenay Ice proved that wrong Saturday night.
The Ice followed up Friday’s workmanlike 5-2 victory over the Spokane Chiefs with a much different effort in a 5-1 loss to the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Saturday.
“It was a Jekyll and Hyde, a little bit,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice after Saturday’s defeat. “We didn’t work. [The Hurricanes] were ready to play when they started the game. We talked about how important it was to start well and not dig a hole…We just weren’t ready to play. Our guys stood around watching. I think they were still thinking about how good they were [Friday] and didn’t turn the page over.
“Tonight, we looked like a minor hockey team and that team over there looked like a pro team.”
Dig a hole is exactly what the Ice did early on and it was a professionally-drafted player inflicting the most damage on behalf of the Hurricanes.
Not only did Pierce’s crew end up getting outshot in the first period, they trailed 2-0 less than three minutes into the affair.
Hurricanes centre Giorgio Estephan, a 2015 sixth-round pick (152nd overall) of the Buffalo Sabres, was in the midst of almost all the offense for Lethbridge Saturday night, collecting four points by the time the final buzzer sounded.
“Our team’s been playing real well,” said the 6-foot, 190-pound Estephan.
“With moving our feet and getting past the defencemen, moving the puck up the ice gave us a lot of chances tonight and we were able to put it home.
“We see [the Ice] quite a bit throughout the year. It’s nice to get [a win] under the belt. You don’t know what to expect coming from Kootenay.”
The native of Edmonton, Alta., opened the scoring 68 seconds into the first period before setting up Jordy Bellerive for his first-career WHL marker 1:29 later.
Just like that, the Hurricanes had collected all the offense they needed for their second win of the season.
“We didn’t come to work, myself included,” said winger Jaedon Descheneau, who made his 2015-16 WHL debut after being returned to the Ice from the AHL’s Chicago Wolves.
“In general, no one came out to play and we left Declan [Hobbs] out to dry for quite a bit of time. Our power play wasn’t going till the end when it didn’t really matter. It was a tough night and a tough game back for me.”
At the other end of the rink, former Ice goaltender Jayden Sittler ensured the two-goal lead was enough as he put forth a shutout effort through 40 minutes that wasn’t spoiled until Ice right wing Jon Martin collected a third-period power-play goal.
Sittler didn’t have to be flashy, but he was there when called upon, making 25 saves for his first win of the season.
For Estephan, he registered the primary assist on three Hurricanes tallies, including a second-period back-breaker from Brayden Burke and a third-period power-play goal from Ryley Lindgren.
Burke’s marker in the second period came with less than a minute to play and followed up on the heels of a 5-on-3 Kootenay power play that the Ice were unable to cash in on. The nifty set up from Estephan was converted in the slot by Burke to make it a 3-0 lead for the visitors.
Between the pipes, Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin was a healthy scratch for the second consecutive night. While Keelan Williams made the start in Friday’s triumph over the Chiefs, it was Declan Hobbs answering the bell Saturday.
“There’s no speculation or controversies with Wyatt Hoflin,” Pierce said. “Wyatt Hoflin is an elite goaltender. We’re fully confident in his ability. With the numbers right now with the 20-year-olds, for us to dress three, we need to keep Wyatt out sometimes. But you’re going to see a big dose of Wyatt Hoflin here real soon. It was important to get both Keelan and Declan into a game early in our season.
“I understand why people would read into it, but there’s nothing there.”
Hoflin remains as one of six 20-year-olds in the Ice dressing room, including Martin, centre Luke Philp, right wing Jaedon Descheneau and injured defencemen Tanner Lishchynsky (lower body, day to day) and Tyler King (knee, indefinite).
Hobbs, 17, was caught off guard early and despite being victimized for five goals, battled to the bitter end, making a handful of desperation stops to keep the game from getting too far from reach.
The Saskatoon native made 34 stops in his 2015-16 debut.
The Ice power play finished the night 1-for-6, while the Hurricanes went 1-for-8 with the man advantage.
Next up, the Ice head out on the road for four games away from Western Financial Place, beginning Tuesday against the Prince Alberta Raiders.
The Hurricanes return home to host the Kelowna Rockets on Sunday night.
Notes: Hurricanes LW Brayden Burke added an assist for a multi-point effort (1-1-2)… The two teams combined for 82 minutes in penalties as tempered flared towards the end of regulation… The Ice scratched Hoflin, Lishchynsky, King, LW Jared Legien and D Jason Wenzel (team suspension)…The Hurricanes scratched D Darian Skeoch, D Nick Watson (upper body, one week), C Brett Davis and RW Zane Franklin… For the third consecutive game at Western Financial Place, attendance was down as only 1,942 spectators came through the gates Saturday night…
Daily Townsman Three Stars1) Giorgio Estephan, Lethbridge Hurricanes (1G, 3A)2) Jayden Sittler, Lethbridge Hurricanes (25 saves)3) Jordy Bellerive, Lethbridge Hurricanes (first WHL goal)