For the third time in 11 days, the Kootenay Ice watched as valuable points walked away in the dying moments of regulation.
Saturday night at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook, the Prince Albert Raiders (8-2-0-1) were the culprits, thieving a 1-0 win with 15.2 seconds remaining in the third period.
“It’s brutal. Twice with this team. We’re up in Prince Albert [Oct. 6] and we’re close to forcing overtime and they score,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice (2-9-0-0), following Saturday’s loss.
“[We are] a young team — but we have to stop using that excuse. How many times do you have to learn the same lesson? The game doesn’t end until there’s a buzzer. I think we play those last couple minutes — in both games — just waiting for a buzzer to go off, instead of letting it tick down. Hopefully twice is enough and we’ll learn from there.”
With goose eggs on the scoreboard for both teams and the final moments rushing off the clock, the Raiders applied pressure deep in Ice territory before a turnover allowed forward Austin Glover to walk out from below the goal line and find the only chink in Wyatt Hoflin’s armour.
The air and anticipation that was in the building as three-on-three overtime loomed rushed out, or at the very least, filled the sails of the Raiders with only 15.2 seconds remaining in regulation.
Saturday’s deflating defeat wasn’t the first of this nature for the Ice.
In Prince Albert on Oct. 6, it was Raiders forward Jordan Tkatch thrusting the dagger into the Ice with 43 seconds to go in a 3-3 tie.
In Moose Jaw on Oct. 10, it was Warriors forward Dryden Hunt stealing two points for his club with only 1:07 to go in the third period of another 3-3 draw.
Despite the outcome, Hoflin was stellar from start to finish and certainly not to blame for the lone goal mustered between the two clubs. Even though he faced fewer shots than counterpart Ian Scott, the Raiders sent a number of quality scoring chances towards the Kootenay crease and the 20-year-old native of Spruce Grove, Alta. was there to answer for 59 minutes and 45 seconds.
“It’s hard for us, especially when we had 59 minutes of pretty good scoring chances and then a breakdown at the end costs us a goal,” Hoflin said Saturday.
“You can have a good effort, but if you’re not winning hockey games, you’re still in the same position in the standings. For us, it’s trying to turn those good efforts into wins and be consistent with those good efforts.”
At the other end of the rink, Scott was the busiest of the two goaltenders, turning aside 33 shots for his first career WHL shutout.
“I give credit to their young goalie,” Pierce said of Scott. “He was very good.”
Very good, indeed.
At 6-foot-3 and 168 pounds, the 16-year-old native of Calgary performed well beyond his age in backstopping the Raiders to a fourth consecutive triumph.
The two teams battled to a scoreless draw through 40 minutes, exchanging a handful of scoring opportunities.
Ice winger River Beattie had what was perhaps the best scoring chance of the first two periods.
With Raiders defenceman Dalton Yorke serving a roughing minor, Beattie snuck in behind the Prince Albert defence before taking a stretch pass at the opposition blue line.
Protecting the puck, the 18-year-old winger drove the net before chipping the puck off the blocker of Scott. The rebound continued behind the Raiders netminder before finding the iron and staying out to keep the game scoreless.
Raiders right wing Reid Gardiner was dangerous from start to finish, including being at the centre of a few odd-man rushes that Hoflin was able to answer.
The heartbreaking 1-0 defeat came on the heels of a 6-3 loss to the Medicine Hat Tigers Friday night, in which Hoflin was, once again, stellar.
In Medicine Hat, the Tigers jumped out to a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes before third-period goals from right wing Zak Zborosky and Beattie pulled the visitors to within one.
Another late turnover cost the Ice, as right wing Austin Mowbray took advantage for the Tigers to make it 5-3 before an empty-net goal from Chad Butcher rounded out the scoring.
Zborosky tallied twice in Medicine Hat, while defenceman Dylan Overdyk added two assists. On the other side of the puck, centre Steven Owre paced the hosts with two goals and newcomer Austin Lotz turned aside 28 pucks for his first victory as a Tiger.
Hoflin faced 46 shots from the Tigers, making 41 saves.
The Ice go without a week of practice once again, as they host the Regina Pats on ‘2-for-1 Tuesday’ Oct. 20 (7 p.m.) at Western Financial Place.
Daily Townsman Three Stars (Oct. 17):
1) G Wyatt Hoflin, Kootenay Ice (23 saves)2) G Ian Scott, Prince Albert Raiders (33 saves, shutout)3) RW Reid Gardiner, Prince Albert Raiders (+1)
Notes: The Ice went with out D Cale Fleury (upper body), D Tyler King (knee), RW Jaedon Descheneau (upper body), RW Max Patterson (upper body) and D/F Nathyn Mortlock Saturday. With Mortlock scratched, the Ice went one skater short (6D, 11F) against the Raiders… Saturday became the third 1-0 outcome the Ice have been a part of in 2015-16. Sept. 26, the Calgary Hitmen edged the Ice 1-0 at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Wednesday night, the Ice snuck past the Moose Jaw Warriors 1-0 at Western Financial Place… The reported attendance at Western Financial Place was 1,918 Saturday night, up from 1,769 Wednesday when the Warriors visited Cranbrook…