The Kootenay Ice are headed to the WHL playoffs for the 16th straight season.
The franchise clinched their post-season berth on Friday with a 5-2 win over the Medicine hat Tigers, and also defeated the Regina Pats 3-1 the following night.
Friday evening was also Anti-Bullying Night, as students came out in style wearing pink and showing off their school spirit. Gordon Terrace, T.M. Roberts and St. Marys were the recipients of a $500 prize for their school spirit efforts.
Jaedon Descheneau led the way with a pair of goals and an assist, while Zach Franko, Jagger Dirk and Tyler King also provided some scoring for the Ice. Tommy Vannelli and Curtis Valk replied for Medicine Hat.
Ice goaltender Mackenzie Skapski stopped 30 shots while Tigers crease guardian Marek Langhamer turned away 22 pucks before getting hooked for Nick Schneider, who played out most of the final period.
Less than 90 seconds into the game, the Tigers took a penalty and Franko drew blood for a early lead. Descheneau doubled it three minutes later, scooping up a rebound from the point and firing it home. That pushed the 19-year-old sniper to 40 goals—the first time a Kootenay Ice player has cracked that number since Steve Da Silva in 2007/08.
Naturally, Descheneau brushed off his accomplishment when informed.
“I never knew that, actually,” said Descheneau. “I guess it feels nice and it’s a credit to my linemates for getting me the puck.”
Vannelli put Medicine Hat up by the end of the period, putting a point shot blast past Skapski.
In the second period, Dirk beat Langhamer through the five-hole after a pretty passing play, while Descheneau potted his second of the game after getting himself alone in front of Langhamer and deking a backhander into the net.
The Ice kept pouring it on in the third period with an early goal from Tyler King, but Valk managed to answer back for the Tabbies with a powerplay effort just over six minutes into the frame.
The win over the Tigers was especially sweet, as Medicine Hat is shaping up to be a potential first-round playoff opponent. The players also fed off the energy of Anti-Bullying Night, which helped swell the attendance to over 2,900 fans.
“It was great,” said Franko. “By far the biggest crowd since I’ve been here and it was awesome. It was electric, it was loud and all those little kids out there were making noise and it makes it easier to play, for sure.”
Kootenay also got some reinforcements back in the lineup with the return of Kyle O’Connor and Jon Martin on Friday.
However, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Ice lost Landon Cross and Landon Peel to injury on Saturday during a 3-1 win over the Pats.
Peel left in the first period after getting boarded, while Cross had to leave after getting knocked to the ice during a fight in the second frame.
Despite that adversity, the Ice were able to earn the win, with goals coming from Luke Philp, Dirk and Descheneau.
Calgary Flames draft pick Morgan Klimchuk answered back for the Pats.
“Obviously, it was a chippy game, especially in that second period,” said Dirk, “but we just came together, stuck to the game plan that the coaches laid out for us and that’s what led to us winning tonight.”
Dirk scored first on a powerplay resulting from the boarding penalty by Rylee Zimmer, who drilled Peel into the Kootenay zone end boards.
The two teams held each other scoreless in the second period, but Cross had to head to the dressing room after getting knocked to the ice and leaking blood following a fight with Pats enforcer Jesse Zgraggen.
Moving Jordan Steenbergen down from the fourth line, the Ice had to play with four defencemen and 11 forwards for the rest of the game.
Philp doubled the Kootenay lead just over the halfway mark of the final frame on another powerplay goal, while Klimchuk made it interesting by putting Regina on the board with just over three minutes to go.
Kootenay took a late penalty and the Pats pulled goaltender Dawson MacAuley for six attackers against four Ice defenders, but it was Descheneau who found the back of the empty net after clearing the zone with a lofty backhander.
Skapski again picked up the win with 27 saves, while MacAuley, who was the sole reason the score wasn’t more lopsided in favour of the Ice, turned away 28 shots.