There are plenty of questions to be asked when it comes to the Kootenay Ice these days.
But one question that can’t reasonably be asked is, “Did they battle right to the bitter end?”
Once again, the Ice (2-10-0-0) battled Tuesday night. Despite their best efforts to erase a three-goal deficit, the Regina Pats (6-5-0-0) held on for a 3-2 victory at Western Financial Place.
“We continued to push — our main identity as a team this year is to show lots of work ethic,” said Kootenay Ice forward Austin Wellsby Tuesday night. “I think we showed that towards the end of the game.”
Tuesday night saw Wellsby skate alongside winger Zak Zborosky and centre Luke Philp on the top line, which accounted for all of the home team’s offense in the loss.
“It shows a lot of character, not giving up on the game like that,” Zborosky said Tuesday night. “Knowing we can do that and not giving up, it’s good.
“We just have to sharpen up on a few things in the defensive zone and limit a couple turnovers here and there. But all in all, you take from the game that we outshot them, we had a good work ethic and we showed a lot of positives.”
After Pats forward Riley Woods scored 1:16 into the third period, the Ice trailed 3-0 in the final period of regulation. It was Zborosky who gave the hosts life and got them on the scoreboard shortly after.
Zborosky had been buzzing around the net all night, creating scoring opportunities right form the first drop of the puck. Following up on a point shot, the native of Regina found a loose puck in the crease of Pats goaltender Daniel Wapple, finding a way to shove it home.
With time winding down in the game, a struggling Ice power play (22nd in the WHL) went to work and veteran Luke Philp was able to convert to pull his team within one. It was the first time the Ice power play was able to cash in since former forward Jon Martin tallied with the man advantage Oct. 3 against the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
“I think we were moving around a little bit more, not being so stationary,” Zborosky said of the man advantage. “We were just shooting pucks when we could and getting pucks on net and creating chances.”
Starting goaltender Declan Hobbs was pulled in favour of the extra attacker with 1:01 to play, but the Pats staved off any final push to claim the two points.
When the final buzzer rang, Wellsby had collected two assists, registering the first multi-point game of his WHL career.
The sophomore forward is relishing a much greater opportunity in Cranbrook this season. After scoring one goal in 35 games last season, the native of Chilliwack, B.C., has already tallied a goal and three points in 12 games to start 2015-16.
“It’s definitely a boost in confidence to my game play,” Wellsby said. “Those two [Zborosky and Philp] are good players and I have to continue to play my game and try not to change too much. I know they’re skill guys but I still have to win battles and create space for them.”
The Ice and Pats battled back and forth to a scoreless result in the opening 20 minutes.
Zborosky fed Philp late in the period and with an open lane to the net, the 19-year-old pivot found a way to beat Wapple, but not the iron as the puck stayed out.
Shortly after, Pats centre Adam Brooks steamed the other direction before beating Hobbs, only to ring the puck off the crossbar.
The Pats eventually took a 2-0 lead in the second period after centre Colton Kroeker, on the power play, and centre Sam Steel were able to beat Hobbs. By the end of the night, the rookie netminder had made 27 stops in a losing cause.
At the other end of the rink, Wapple was kept busy as the Ice put 39 pucks in on the Regina net. The Pats puck-stopper was up to the task, turning aside 37 shots.
The Ice get back to it Friday night when they host the Saskatoon Blades.
Daily Townsman Three Stars
1) C Sam Steel, Regina Pats (1G, 1A)
2) RW Zak Zborosky, Kootenay Ice (1G, 1A)
3) G Daniel Wapple, Regina Pats (37 saves)
Notes: The Ice went without D Cale Fleury (upper body), D Tyler King (knee), RW Jaedon Descheneau (upper body) and RW Max Patterson (upper body) once again… Tuesday was a family affair at Western Financial Place as Hobbs went head to head with older brother and Pats defenceman Connor Hobbs… Pats C Sam Steel recorded a goal and an assist Tuesday…