Behind the eight-ball early, the Kootenay Ice couldn’t recover.
The Medicine Hat Tigers scored twice in the first period of play, including a tally from Max Gerlach only 1:17 into the affair, en route to a 3-0 shutout victory Tuesday night.
“They had good jump, but they score on their first shot and to me, it’s not a good goal,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, over the phone from Medicine Hat Tuesday night. “It puts us behind and then their second goal, again, I didn’t really like. You get behind early and I thought Declan [Hobbs, goaltender] battled hard in the latter stages — the second and third [periods] — but he’s got to be ready to play early.
“It put our team behind and we had a tough time catching up from there.”
Hobbs went on to make 34 saves, but it wasn’t enough to salvage the poor start.
After Gerlach scored his 26th of the season only 1:17 into the first period, Tigers forward Matt Bradley doubled the advantage at the 10:40 mark to give Medicine Hat more than enough offense for the night.
A scoreless second period gave way to the third period and Zach Fischer put the final dagger on the board with a power-play marker at 11:02.
Trailing 2-0 heading into the third period, the Ice only managed five shots over the final 20 minutes of play. Much of that could be attributed to the fact Medicine Hat was handed five power-play opportunities in the period, including a two-minute 5-on-3 man advantage after defenceman Ryan Pouliot was tagged with a slashing major and forward River Beattie received an instigating minor and fighting major at the same stoppage.
“I thought our energy was better in the third and then, certainly, you have to be very careful when you’re begin critical of the officials,” Pierce said. “They’re certainly not the reason why we lost the hockey game. But all of a sudden stuff in the third period that had been going on all game long starts getting called. It was a bizarre set of circumstance from my standpoint and it certainly didn’t allow us to generate a lot of momentum.”
Pouliot was ejected from the game after slashing Tigers forward James Hamblin. The rookie went down on the play and appeared hurt, but returned for the ensuing power play.
As a scrum broke out in Kootenay territory following Pouliot’s slash, Beattie dropped the mitts with Tyler Preziuso, landing a few heavy right blows before officials stepped in to tie the two up.
Beattie returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing two games due to illness.
“In the third, I thought River was good, he got engaged a little more,” Pierce said. “But early on, you could tell he had been out for a while. He looked a little bit behind, timing maybe not all there. But he will be important for us. We’ve got a lot of guys banged up and we need him to provide constant energy.”
Nick Schneider was unblemished when the final buzzer sounded, turning in 19 saves to collect his 16th victory of the campaign.
With the triumph, the Tigers (25-34-3-2) have won three straight and pulled within six points of the Edmonton Oil Kings for the second and final wild card position in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
For the Ice, the regulation defeat goes into the books as the 47th of the season, dropping the club to 10-47-6-0.
A busy road swing continues Wednesday evening (6 p.m. Mountain) for the Ice, as they visit the Regina Pats (30-26-3-4).
Including Tuesday’s loss in Medicine Hat, the Ice play four road games over five days this week. Following Wednesday’s tilt with the Pats, Kootenay carries on to Prince Albert (Friday) and Saskatoon (Saturday).
“We need more contributions, not necessarily offense, but just guys playing well from the depths of our lineup,” Pierce said looking ahead to the rest of the swing. “I’m not going to play Matt Alfaro and Zak Zborosky for 30 minutes a night, as much as they want to play.
“Even if it gives us the best chance to win games, it’s not good for us long term. Playing four games in five nights, I’m not going to overuse those two. But at the same time, other guys need to prove they’re ready to play and willing to do the tough things that will help us win hockey games.”
Notes: The Ice went without D Troy Murray (neck/throat), LW Roman Dymacek (lower body), RW Jaedon Descheneau (shoulder), RW Austin Gray (illness) and C Dylan Stewart (concussion) Tuesday night… C Reed Morison (1998) made his WHL debut for the Ice Tuesday, but as special teams took over, saw less and less ice time. “He has good size and I’d like to see a little more engaged physically,” Pierce said of Morison. “There are some nerves there and an uncomfortable situation not knowing everything that’s going on, so hopefully as the trip goes on we’ll get to use him some more and see some more.”