The Medicine Hat Tigers (7-3-1-0) had their way with the Kootenay Ice (1-6-3-1) on Wednesday night, piling up goal after goal in a lopsided victory on their home Ice.
Now, only two nights later, the Ice will look to defend Western Financial Place from the very team who embarrassed them in their 10-3 defeat.
Coach Luke Pierce believes that his team has to be much better if they want to have any hope of picking up their first home win.
“I’m interested to see how motivated [our players] are [in the rematch], I mean that’s a big test [and] I think [when] you get kicked in the junk a little bit like that, you want to see a response,” Pierce said. “But that’s up to [the players], my job is to prepare them as best I can for the opponent and [then it’s] their responsibility is to come back with a little more fight.”
Without the services of illness-stricken starting goalie Payton Lee, Kootenay had to rely on sophomore backup Declan Hobbs for Wednesday’s bout with the Tigers.
They didn’t set him up for success.
“[Hobbs] has been in that situation before, it’s not easy to get off the bus [and then play], but I don’t think we can use it as an excuse,’ Pierce said. “Obviously you’d love your team to play a lot better in front of him, in a perfect world, but that doesn’t always happen.”
In the first period, the Tigers racked up 18 shots, while the Ice only countered with 9 of their own. While the Ice stayed in the game early, trading chances with the Tigers in the first half of the opening frame, by the end of the period Medicine Hat was considerably outshooting the Ice and put in two quick goals in the last two minutes.
Moments after Hobbs was bailed out by a lucky puck that bounced off both posts after a clear chance by rookie John Dahlstrom, James Hamblin and Tigers captain Clayton Kirichenko both beat him high glove side in rapid succession. The two goals were less than 30 seconds apart and were almost identical.
“I think [those goals were] a credit to their shooters, if we were to score a goal in a certain area of the net I’d love to see our guys try to go back to it,” Pierce said. “I don’t think [the second goal is one] that [Hobbs] liked and [it was] one that we didn’t really like, but there were things that happened before that, that we could’ve prevented.”
In the second period, the Tigers became dominant and Dahlstrom scored within the first 30 seconds. That opened the floodgates and they piled on three more goals, including scoring on their only powerplay, to put them up by 6 going into the third.
“[We] didn’t come out the way we needed to in the first couple shifts of the second and they capitalized again and that was kinda lights out,” Pierce said of the middle frame. “[It was] unacceptable from our group’s standpoint and unacceptable from my standpoint as a coach to not make sure that we were better prepared to come out in the second period.”
Nearly every player on the Tigers bench picked up a point with Dahlstrom scoring again and Ryan Chyzowski and Ryan Jevne also finding the back of the net in that second frame.
The third didn’t fair too much differently. Mark Rassel and Matt Bradley joined the parade in the opening two minutes, causing the Ice to pull Hobbs in favour of rookie Jacob Walter.
Although the Ice put up a fight in the remaining fifteen minutes of the game, getting goals from Zak Zborosky — who scored his tenth goal of the year — and Dallas Hine and Max Patterson, the Tigers kept pressing too with a goal by Gary Haden and a hat-trick maker for John Dahlstrom.
“I thought we played hard in the last ten minutes but it’s hard to judge that fairly because they’re up by quite a few and I don’t think their effort level was what it was early in the game,” Pierce admitted. “You can try to build positives from some of the things that we did well — it [was] better than us just packing it in entirely and giving up 15 — but [there] definitely weren’t a lot of positives to take.”
At the time of the final buzzer, the Tigers had 51 shots to the Ice’s 37. Only five players in their lineup didn’t have a point while seven had multi-point efforts. Dahlstrom finished with three goals and an assist, Mason Shaw had five assists and Bradley had a goal and three assists.
Pierce doesn’t expect Payton Lee to be healthy enough to start for the Ice tonight and seems to be leaning towards rookie Jakob Walter getting the start in the rematch.
“Most likely [Lee will be out again], he’s getting looked at again by a doctor and [we’ll] hopefully have some more information on when he might be available,” Pierce said. “It’s unfortunate for us, he’s obviously been very good [but] we need a guy to step up.”
Kaedan Taphorn, however, is expected to be back in the lineup after missing five games following a hit to the head that left him with almost 30 stitches in his face. Taphorn’s return should allow Pierce the opportunity to have more balance in his lines.
“[The Taphorn twins] work well together, and I think they give us basically a full line … you can add a centreman in there who can play a similar smart game and it’s certainly an added bonus.”
The Tigers, on the other hand, will once again be without the services of Chad Butcher, who was their leading scorer before Shaw overtook him on Wednesday, as he is still serving a three-game suspension.
While Pierce is happy to be home for the second game of the series, he is eager to see them play better wherever they are.
“On the ice, I think [playing at home] it helps us in controlling our matchups [but] we need to just have a better performance regardless of where we’re playing,” he said, adding finally that the one area he wants to see continued from Wednesday us their discipline.
“I thought we did a good job of being disciplined so that’s the way we’re going to have to play,” he said. “We don’t want to get into a special teams war with [the Tigers].”
Puck drop for round two of the Ice and Tigers is at 7 p.m. tonight, at Western Financial Place.