It was another tough night for the fans at Western Financial Place as the Kootenay Ice lost at home for the second night in a row.
After coming close against the Oil Kings on Friday — in a game they had every right to believe they should have won — Kootenay lost defiantly to the Calgary Hitmen 4-2 on Saturday night.
While the final score doesn’t seem too lopsided, the Ice were significantly outplayed by their opposition, something that head coach, Luke Pierce, was not happy with.
“[It was] disappointing. I thought it was an opportunity for us to springboard off our really good effort from [Friday],” Pierce said. “I think we looked at [the game] as if it was going to be an easy game because [the Hitmen] were tired and fatigued and they’ve been struggling, [but] we’ve got to be smarter than that.”
Although the Ice managed to keep the game tied at 0-0 for the opening ten minutes, they failed to convert on an early power play chance and soon found the momentum firmly in Calgary’s grasp.
The Hitmen took it to the Ice on their first man advantage near the midway point of the first period, and while the Ice killed it off, Beck Malenstyn scored five seconds later off a rebound chance to give Calgary the lead.
Less than five minutes later the Ice gave up another goal when Hitmen forward Lucas Cullen gloved down his own rebound and slid home a backhander.
The Ice went into the first intermission down by a pair, and the shaky start ended the night of rookie backup goalie Jakob Walter, who was replaced by Payton Lee.
“We didn’t give [Walter] a lot of help [but] he didn’t look sharp — his rebound control was just off a little bit and we didn’t want to put him in [a bad] situation,” Pierce said on the early goaltender switch. “I [also] wanted to send a message to our players that [we were] really serious about this being a game we needed to win and there was no excuses with our 20-year-old goalie in.
“We’re not concerned at all about [Walter], he’s a young kid and he’ll be better in his next start for sure.”
Despite Lee’s presence in the crease, the Ice did not come out with new life in the second period. Early in the frame, Noah Philp and Troy Murray took penalties nine seconds apart, giving Calgary a 5-on-3 opportunity for almost a full 2 minutes.
The Hitmen made no mistake on the two-man advantage, and Mark Kastelic deflected a shot from defenceman Matteo Gennaro to beat Lee and put his team up by 3.
Matt Alfaro got the Ice on the board a couple of minutes later, after creating a turnover in the neutral zone and then beating Hitmen goalie Cody Porter low with a wrist shot.
Unfortunately for Kootenay, Malenstyn managed to find the back of the net again for his second goal before the period was over.
Although the Ice weren’t able to close the substantial gap they created for themselves in the third period, they didn’t go out without a fight.
The team put up 11 shots in the final frame and ended the game outshooting their opponent 31-27. They also put up a power play goal to end a scoring drought on the man advantage — the Ice hadn’t scored with an extra man in their previous 22 attempts.
“I don’t know if the goal had anything to do with the power play, it just happened to be one of those breaks that you catch,” Pierce said. “Maybe we’ll hold interviews to see who believes they should be [on the power play] and why, because right now there are a bunch of guys who have had a ton of opportunities and really haven’t produced the results that we need.”
According to the coach, the biggest issue plaguing the team right now is lack of consistency.
“As a group we need to start, at least, bringing the same thing every day,” he said. “Whether you win every night or not is a lot of times out of your control, but as long as we know what we’re going to get every day, then we can start to plan and get better as a group.
“[If we get that], we can start layering things as a team on what we want to improve on, but that starts by having multiple good practices in a row.”
The Ice practice on Monday and Tuesday, before getting back to game action against the Red Deer Rebels on Wednesday.
Securing only one point over the weekend is a significant blow to a team that could use any help they can get in the standings.They remain in second last in the league, with only 14 points through 23 games played so far.
The Ice’s tilt against the Rebels will be their fourth straight game at home on Wednesday, the first of a home-and-home series which concludes on Friday. Kootenay lost in their only previous meeting with Red Deer, falling 2-1 on October 15.
Ice defenceman-turned-forward, Fedor Rudakov, believes the team will be more competitive the next time they play.
“We played a good game last night and [we] came in a bit sloppy in the first period, but we picked it up and played a good third period,” Rudakov said following the loss. “I think next game we’re going to be better.”
The puck drops Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. at Western Financial Place.