The Kootenay Ice managed to shut down Rihards Bukarts right up until the last play of the game. Unfortunately, that was the only opportunity the overage import needed.
With 3-on-3 overtime entering its final minute, the 5-foot-9 Latvian cruised across the Kootenay blueline before unleashing a wicked wrist shot that beat goaltender Wyatt Hoflin over the shoulder and under the cross bar to give the visiting Portland Winterhawks a 4-3 victory Saturday night at Western Financial Place.
“The fact that we’re that competitive in that game, and I understand it’s the end of their [road] trip and they’re probably a little slow, but we played the majority of the night with nine forwards and six defencemen,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, Saturday night. “Our guys were a little bit gassed, but our will compete and stay in it [is a positive].
“I thought we were a lot more responsible today. It gives you that little bit of encouragement that there’s still hope to keep working and that they want to get better and that we’re capable of being a better team.
“It’s too bad you don’t get rewarded with a win. It’s hard to reinforce your message when you lose the game, but I think the guys will look back on it and realize they did a lot of good things.”
Pierce started the game one skater short before losing Roman Dymacek to injury late in the first period. Then in the early stages of the third period, defenceman Troy Murray left down the tunnel after a scary incident, that for the most part, went relatively undetected in the building.
Murray laid a heavy hit on Winterhawks forward Alex Schoenborn in front of the Kootenay crease. Schoenborn went crashing into the post and appeared to take the worst of the impact on the play, but it was actually Murray who ended up on the scary end of the incident.
Of no fault to Schoenborn, his skate came up as he was sent airborne and clipped the Ice defender in the neck. According to Pierce, no major artery was struck and though there was plenty of blood, Murray is okay outside of needing stitches and time to heal.
“That was a pretty scary incident,” Pierce said. “He took a skate to the throat and luckily it missed everything vital there. But a real scary incident for him and for our whole team. To see a guy leave the bench — there was a lot of blood and stuff going on — so it was good news to hear that he just needs some stitches, most likely.”
Schoenborn was a pest all night long, finishing the game with two goals and two assists to his credit.
First, he opened the scoring for Portland, converting on a turnover in Kootenay territory. Bursting into the slot, Schoenborn fired a quick snap that beat Hoflin low blocker for a 1-0 lead 9:11 into the first period.
After the Winterhawks jumped into the lead, the reunited ‘A-to-Z’ line featuring Matt Alfaro, Jesse Zaharichuk and Zak Zborosky got to work turning things around.
First, Zborosky forced a turnover that Zaharichuk pounced on in the slot, sending a wrist shot past the blocker of Hill to knot the game 1-1 at the 13:51 mark. Not even a minute later, it was Zaharichuk feeding Zborosky, who burned down the left wing before putting the puck past Winterhawks goaltender Adin Hill to thrust the hosts into a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes of play.
“It was hard early on to try and figure out who to play them against,” Pierce said of his top line. “[Portland] has two real good lines there… We tried to play them as best we could against both their top lines, but I thought they were real responsible and that’s what led to a lot of their offensive opportunities.”
Noah Philp extended the hosts advantage to 3-1 only 1:11 into the second period, as an errant Portland pass landed right on his tape in front of Hill. The rookie pivot slid the fortuitous bounce through the legs of the Winterhawks netminder to give the hosts a two-goal edge.
But the Winterhawks didn’t go away.
Schoenborn grabbed his second goal of the night at the 5:39 mark to make it 3-2 before defenceman Blake Heinrich unleashed a blast late in the period to tie the game 3-3. With a wall of bodies in front, Hoflin never got eyes on the long point shot.
A back-and-forth third period saw chances at both ends of the rink, though no one was able to solve Hill or Hoflin.
By the end of the night, Hill made 32 saves on 35 shots to collect his 30th win of the campaign, while Hoflin turned aside 28 shots at the other end.
Notes: The Kootenay Ice scratched RW Jaedon Descheneau (shoulder), RW Austin Gray, RW River Beattie and C Dylan Stewart (concussion) Saturday… The Portland Winterhawks went without the services of LW Paul Bittner, RW Evan Weinger, D Carter Czaikowski and C Skyler McKenzie… 2,093 was the announced attendance Saturday in Cranbrook… It was Jersey Off the Back Night at Western Financial Place. A total of $8,670 was raised for the Kootenay Ice Education Fund as players’ game-worn sweaters were auctioned off throughout the night…