The Kootenay Ice put themselves back in the win column this weekend, beating the Saskatoon Blades 4-3 on Friday and shutting out the Edmonton Oil Kings 1-0 on Sunday.
The two victories snaps the Ice’s three-game losing streak as the team noticeably tightened up their defensive game, while goaltender Mackenzie Skapski was sharp in both games.
It was also a bit of a statement, as the Blades are hosting the Memorial Cup this year and are looking to build a strong team, while the Oil Kings are the defending WHL champions.
“It’s a nice feeling,” said Ice defenceman Joey Leach. “We had a slow start [to the season], and it’s nice to be able to put a weekend together with two wins, it builds everyone’s confidence up and gets everything put into motion.
“We’ve come together as a complete team.”
Brock Montgomery scored the game-winning goal against the Blades, while Collin Shirley was the lone goal scorer for the Ice against the Oil Kings.
Montgomery opened the scoring against the Blades on a bit of a lucky break just after the halfway mark of the first period on Friday.
The 20-year-old power forward threw the puck on net as he crossed into the offensive zone, which rebounded off goalie Andrey Makarov’s chest and deflected off a defender into the net.
Jagger Dirk doubled the Kootenay lead on a power play with two minutes to go in the frame, wristing a shot from the blue line that beat the Blades’ net minder.
The opening 20 minutes was the best start the Ice have had this season, and the two goal lead by the end was a reward for their offensive and defensive efforts.
“One big thing for us as a D-corps and as a team is having good sticks in the defensive zone and today, we didn’t let them have anything, we didn’t give them a sniff near our net,” said Ice defenseman Tanner Muth. “The goals that they scored were some nice shots, but we played a really tight game.”
The Blades collectively woke up the second period, and Josh Nicholls cut the deficit in half, getting a tip on a shot from Kyle Schmidt.
Nicholls got his second of the night in the third period, as some strong cycle work translated into a goal when the Blades’ sniper received a pass and snapped in a shot from the slot.
Sam Reinhart broke the tie when he picked up the garbage in front of Makarov seven minutes later, but Saskatoon tied up the game again with a goal from Shane McColgan at 15:16 of the final frame.
However, Montgomery collected a loose puck in the offensive zone a minute later and rung it off the post and in blocker side of Makarov to notch the game-winning goal.
“It was a great feeling for sure,” said Montgomery. “When a team puts in a full 60 minutes like that and our goalie keeps us in it all game — to put the boys ahead like that is a great feeling.”
The result was the fifth straight loss for the Blades, the franchise that just so happens to be hosting the Memorial Cup this year.
“When you lose games on the road like this, it becomes a mental block and I thought tonight that we had a really solid effort and it didn’t go our way tonight,” said Blades forward Adam Kambeitz. “I think we just need to keep staying positive in the dressing room and just keep working our butts off and and I think we’re bound to get through this.”
The Ice rode that win into Sunday evening with a tight 1-0 win over the Edmonton Oil Kings.
The defending WHL champions beat Kootenay in all six regular-season meetings last year and swept them out of the first round of the playoffs.
Edmonton had some discipline problems, as the Ice had eight power play chances, but the Oil Kings killed them all
Kootenay, in turn, shut the door on three separate penalties.
It was a tight defensive game that opened with a scoreless first period.
Both teams traded quality chances; Levi Cable rushed through the neutral zone, splitting Edmonton’s defence, but goaltender Tristan Jarry made the save, while Skapski replied with a great stop on T.J. Foster in the slot.
Ice captain Drew Czerwonka rang the puck off the post on a power play late in the frame.
The chances kept coming in the second period, as both teams stayed defensively sharp.
Skapski made the save of the game when he denied Edmonton’s Curtis Lazar on a shorthanded breakaway and stopped the ensuing rebound from Henrik Samuelsson.
The Ice thought they’d scored a goal during a scramble in the crease as a bunch of blue and black jerseys rushed Jarry, but the goal lamp never lit and the ref waved the play on.
The Ice pulled ahead late in the frame when Collin Shirley broke in to the zone and roofed a shot stop corner over Jarry’s blocker.
The Oil Kings got a little more aggressive in the third period as they tried to find the equalizer, but penalties and sharp play from the Ice, kept them off the scoresheet.
“I’m feeling really good and looking forward to keeping this going,” said Skapski, of his efforts that earned the shutout.
“My job is to stop the puck but my team did a fabulous job this weekend just making little adjustments and we’re really buying into the system.”
Notes: Jon Martin returned to the lineup on Sunday from his three-game suspension for a line brawl a week ago against the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Zach Pochiro, of the Prince George Cougars, was handed a three-game suspension by the WHL for his check from behind on Ice defenseman Tanner Faith when the two teams met last Wednesday. Faith was able to leave the ice on his own power and played in Friday’s match against the Blades.