The Kootenay Ice extended their win streak to five games on Sunday, dumping the visiting Red Deer Rebels 3-2 at Western Financial Place.
Preceding the romp over the Rebels was a 4-1 victory over the Swift Current Broncos on Friday evening in another game on home ice.
The team has visibly improved in every aspect of the game as evidenced by their five consecutive wins, which has allowed everyone to build up their confidence, according to veteran Erik Benoit.
“We got lots of confidence brewing in the room now and all our lines are starting to click and we’re doing the little things right,” said Benoit.
Kootenay has closed the gap in the Eastern Conference standings and are now one point behind the Brandon Wheat Kings for 11th place and nine points outside of a playoff spot.
Swift Current’s loss at Western Financial Place came at the start of a quick two-game road trip, while the Rebels’ dropped their decision at the end of playing four games over five days.
Kootenay did a pretty good job of beating up on the Broncos, which came out a little sluggish and paid for it after Brock Montgomery got his stick on a point shot from Tanner Faith on a power play midway through the first period.
Sam Reinhart doubled the lead in the second period on a shorthanded effort, collecting the puck at the side of the net and banging it in after Jagger Dirk sent a shot that deflected off the backboards.
With less than a minute to go in the frame, Reinhart dug the puck loose along the sideboards, which Benoit picked up and fed Jaedon Descheneau, who sniped his seventh goal of the season.
The Broncos woke up in the third period and put some sustained pressure on the Ice, which resulted in a goal for Tanner LeSann, who put his club up on the board.
However, Kootenay struck back late in the game when Benoit scooped up the puck in the neutral zone while Broncos netminder Steven Myland was halfway to the bench for an extra attacker.
Despite a valiant dive on Myland’s part, Benoit was able to put the puck into a gaping net to crush all hopes of a Swift Current comeback.
“I was completely clueless to be honest,” said Benoit, as he didn’t realize Myland had left his net. “Sam [Reinhart] was screaming at my back and telling me that the net was empty, so I just looked up and fired at it.”
Ice goaltender Mackenzie Skapski ended the game with 26 saves, while Myland stopped 16 shots.
Red Deer returned for it’s second matchup with the Ice in five days and left with their second consecutive loss.
Kootenay weathered the storm in the first period, as Red Deer held a slight edge, but Skapski was sharp in between the pipes for the hometown team.
However, Red Deer jumped ahead in the second period when Turner Elson beat Skapski top shelf short side with a wrist shot while entering the Ice’s zone.
The Rebels held the lead until the final second of the frame, when Reinhart scored a buzzer beater while on a powerplay.
The young Kootenay sniper was on the receiving end of a passing play between Descheneau and Joey Leach, and he made good on his shot with seven one-hundredths of a second to go on the clock.
Benoit scored a pair of goals in the final period, to give the Ice a two-goal lead. His first marker came off a quick wrist shot that went top corner after skating into the offensive zone, while his second was a tap-in outside the crease that came off a pretty little pass from Luke Philp.
Red Deer managed to cut Kootenay’s lead to only one goal late in the game after Matt Bellerive took advantage of a defensive zone turnover and beat Skapski with a low shot that deflected off something on its way to the net.
Kootenay held off the final assault with the pulled goaltender and extra attacker and even hemmed the Rebels in their own zone, putting at least four shots in the direction of a wide open net.
Bolton Pouliot stopped 45 shots for Red Deer, while Skapski turned away 21 pucks.
The team’s confidence and improvements have allowed all four lines to click together, added Benoit.
“It’s good to roll four lines,” said Benoit. “When a team is not playing four lines, it’s really tough to keep up the pace for the whole game, so rolling four lines is key for us to get all that energy in the lineup.”
Kootenay gets a day off on Monday before hosting the Edmonton Oil Kings on Tuesday night at Western Financial Place.