After Wednesday’s game against the Silvertips, the Kootenay Ice looked liked they were ready to go into hibernation.
Although their first period in Everett was promising, they came out of the opening frame down 1-0 off an unfortunate redirection into their own net.
The nasty bit of puck-luck looked to have deflated the Ice in the first period of their 3-game American road trip and they ended up being shutout by Everett 5-0.
Despite the tough beginning, the team’s fortunes picked up in Seattle where they lost in overtime to the Thunderbirds 4-3, and then carried into Portland where they won 3-2, ending a five-game losing streak.
4-3 OTL @ Seattle Thunderbirds (Friday, December 2)
After getting stonewalled by the back-to-back reigning WHL goaltender of the week, Carter Hart, in Everett, Kootenay quickly regained their scoring touch against Seattle.
Defenseman Fedor Rudakov beat Thunderbird-goalie Rylan Toth less than a minute and a half into the first period when he banged home the rebound off a Barrett Sheen blast on their second shot of the night.
Unfortunately, the T-birds quickly regrouped and Ethan Bear scored on a slapshot just a minute later. The goal, which was assisted by top-NHL prospect Mathew Barzal, was the result of an innocent enough looking play, yet it cleanly beat Jakob Walter from quite a distance.
Walter got the start in net on Friday after starter Payton Lee saved 44 out of 49 shots on Wednesday.
Bear created another goal early in the second period on a power play, when his shot from the blueline was tipped in front by Scott Eansor to give Seattle a 2-1 lead.
Sheen, however, continued his strong play and forced a turnover in the neutral zone before passing to Jake Elmer who picked the top corner with a beautiful snipe.
Despite only having four shots in the entire second period, Matt Alfaro found Vince Loschiavo in front of the net for their second goal of the period to give them a 3-2 lead going into the final intermission.
Somehow outshooting the Ice 17-3 in the final frame only led to a tying goal from the Thunderbirds. The Ice scraped out a point in an overtime that Seattle quickly ended.
Although it was not an especially solid performance from the Ice, being outshot 42-19 and strongly relying on Walter to bail them out, unlike in their previous few games, they managed to get the right bounces and capitalized on their opportunities.
This lucky streak would continue as they headed south the next day.
3-2 W @ Portland Winterhawks (Saturday, December 3)
Saturday afternoon began the way so many of the team’s games have this season. Payton Lee made a huge game-saving stop before anyone had even settled into their seats.
Less than a minute in, Winterhawks’ winger Joachim Blichfeld fed a perfect rush pass to Ryan Hughes right in front of the net and Lee did the splits to keep the game level.
Barrett Sheen then knocked Hughes to the ground and subsequently dropped the gloves with Evan Weinger, which gave the Ice an early power play as Weinger was called for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The penalty killed Portland’s early momentum and the Ice eventually got the opening goal with Loshiavo scoring from the slot off an Alfaro pass for the second straight game.
Although Cale Fleury took an undisciplined four minute high-sticking penalty just 30 seconds later, the Ice managed to kill it off entirely before getting their own chance at an extra-man advantage midway through the opening period.
The struggling power play found a way to tie the game, with Alfaro’s point shot creating a big rebound that pinching defenceman Dallas Hines buried from the slot.
In the second period, the Ice further frustrated the ‘Hawks — who outshot the Ice 57-24 — as Lee not only foiled Weigner on a breakaway, but Zak Zborosky scored to take a 3-0 lead.
Zborosky’s beautiful shot rushing up the lane was started by an outlet pass from Alfaro, who had the primary assist on all three Ice goals. He has been a dynamic point producer for the team of late, with eight points in his last five games.
Although the Winterhawks’ power play finally broke through on their sixth chance, with captain Keegan Iverson ending Lee’s shutout just five seconds into a man-advantage at the end of the second period, the Ice somehow managed to hold onto the win.
Kootenay only had 6 shots on net and gave up two more power plays in the third period, but Lee continued to be fantastic and the team never quit.
While they gave up a goal on a 6-on-4 with four minutes remaining, the Ice buckled down defensively and effectively cleared pucks until the buzzer finally sounded to end another tense night.
Over the course of the weekend, the Ice were outshot by the ‘Birds and ‘Hawks 99-43 and even more astonishingly, 65-20 in the combined second and third periods of both games.
On the plus side, the Ice managed to come out of the back-to-back games with three of a possible four points in the standings.
The victory has temporarily bumped them up to 20th in the WHL with 19 points, ahead of both Prince Albert and Calgary. The Hitmen, however have 18 points and have only played 23 games while the Ice have played 30.
Saturday’s victory was the Ice’s first win in Portland since May 13, 2011 — when the Ice won the Ed Chynoweth Cup in the fifth game of their playoff series.
A win to get themselves up from 21st to 20th in the standings, may not be at that level when it comes to accomplishments for this young Ice team, but it’s a start.
Kootenay return home to play the Regina Pats on Tuesday, December 6 at 7 p.m. at Western Financial Place. As the consensus top team in Canadian major-junior hockey, it’s going to be another tough test, but with an overtime loss and a win against the Pats earlier this season, the Ice shouldn’t be too intimidated.