For the second time in less than two weeks, the Lethbridge Hurricanes found a way to best the Kootenay Ice.
The annual Crowsnest Pass Minor Hockey Thunder Challenge got underway Thursday night as the Hurricanes slipped past the Ice by a 3-2 margin.
A power-play goal from Brett Davis midway through the second period stood as the eventual game-winning tally, as the two Central Division rivals met for the second and final time in Western Hockey League pre-season action.
The two teams first clashed at Cranbrook’s Memorial Arena back on Sept. 8, the first game of the pre-season for the Ice, in which the Hurricanes left with a decisive 6-1 victory.
“I thought the effort was good, no complaint on it,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, Thursday night. “Are there areas we need to be a little smarter? Yeah. You get the work ethic and then you have to add some intelligence into that to make it easier on yourself. But overall, I thought we competed pretty well.”
The Ice jumped out to a 1-0 lead midway through the first period, as Mario Grman sent a seeing-eye point shot through a maze of bodies before eventually finding the twine behind Hurricanes netminder Jayden Sittler.
Shortly thereafter, Russian import Egor Babenko tied the game with a quick wrap from below the goal line to beat Ice starting goaltender Wyatt Hoflin and the two teams headed to the dressing rooms knotted 1-1 after 20 minutes.
A pair of miscues in the defensive zone allowed the Hurricanes to get in front during the second.
Hurricanes forward Jaeger White was the first to capitalize on a turnover at the Ice blue-line, snapping a hot shot past the glove of Hoflin for a 2-1 Lethbridge lead 6:45 in.
Less than five minutes later with Ice defenceman Jason Wenzel serving an interference minor, Hurricanes forward Brett Davis parked himself in the slot before taking a pass from defenceman Brady Reagan and depositing a power-play tally behind Hoflin.
Facing a two-goal deficit, it was a pair of sophomores — defenceman Cale Fleury and forward Vince Loschiavo — providing the energy as the Ice looked to mount a comeback Thursday night.
If the Ice are to find success once the regular season rolls around, the play of both returning skaters is going to be critical.
“They’ve got to standout. They’ve got to be leaders. They’ve got to play the game properly,” Pierce said. “I thought Vinny — this was probably his best game of the exhibition. Cale was very strong again, and he plays with so much confidence for a kid that age.
“We need those guys to play older than what they are and sometimes that’s asking a lot, but it’s going to hopefully help them in their development moving forward.”
Ask any general manager or coach in the Western Hockey League, for a 16-year-old to make the jump to major junior, they need to possess a special skill set. Thursday night, both Fleury and Loschiavo provided a taste of why they made the jump as youngsters last season.
With time winding down in the second period, Fleury boosted his club before the break by throwing a thunderous body check at his own blue-line.
Though a clean crunch as far as the officials were concerned, Hurricanes veteran defenceman Arvin Atwal took exception and confronted the 16-year-old. Next thing you know, Fleury’s gloves are off and he’s in the midst of his first WHL scrap.
“It was a pretty big hit, so I kind of thought somebody was going to come after me,” said the 6-foot-1, 192-pound native of Calgary. “I’m not going to back down from that. I need to be physical this year. We’ve got a younger team and I’ve got a pretty good body to throw around.”
Atwal — standing 6-feet and weighing in at 200 pounds — was no lightweight opponent for Fleury, but both put in a spirited effort.
The evening ended early for Atwal, a native of Delta, B.C., as he was eventually assessed an instigating minor and game misconduct on top of a five-minute fighting major.
With the third period underway and a 3-1 deficit still on the board for the Ice, defenceman Bryan Allbee found himself in the penalty box after taking hooking minor.
On the ensuing penalty kill, Czech import Roman Dymacek picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone before bursting in two-on-one with 17-year-old Vince Loschiavo.
“I got off the bench, came through our zone and saw the puck flying,” Loschiavo recalled. “Roman chipped it past the ‘D’ man. He’s fast and I knew he was going to blow by the other guy so I went hard to the net. He made it easy for me.”
All that was left for the native of Winnipeg was to deposit the puck past a helpless Sittler.
Suddenly, the Hurricanes advantage was cut in half as Loschiavo’s second of the pre-season made it a 3-2 hockey game with nearly 13 minutes remaining in regulation.
Late pressure and full minute with the extra attacker as Hoflin sat on the bench wasn’t enough to force overtime.
Despite being outshot 11-4 in the final 20 minutes of play, the Hurricanes, backed by Sittler, held on for the win.
The Hurricanes puck-stopper turned aside 32 shots for the victory, while Hoflin made 25 saves at the other end of the rink.
The Hurricanes are back in action Friday night as they face the Calgary Hitmen in the second game of the Thunder Challenge back in the Crowsnest Pass.
The Ice then wrap up their WHL pre-season as well as the Thunder Challenge in a Saturday night outing with the Hitmen.
For Pierce, the message is simple heading into the final tune-up: eliminate simple mistakes.
“All three goals [Thursday] were not necessarily because of things [the Hurricanes] did well, it was because we shot ourselves in the foot and gave them free pucks,” Pierce said. “We want to make sure, if teams are going to score on us, they have to earn it.
“Lethbridge played well [Thursday], I’m not taking that away from them. I just thought the goals we did give up, we kind of gifted to them. We’ve got to cut down on those and just make the game a lot less difficult.”
Puck drop between the Ice and Hitmen is slated for 7 p.m. Saturday in the Crowsnest Pass.