For most Canadians, Sunday was a day of rest — nothing to do but sit on the couch, eat chips and watch the Calgary Stampeders take on the Ottawa Redblacks for Canadian football’s biggest prize.
The Kootenay Ice, however, weren’t afforded a moment to relax this weekend. Their Grey Cup Sunday afternoon was spent playing their third straight game in three days, as they lost to the Edmonton Oil Kings 5-3 in a displeasing end to a difficult bit of the year.
“It was tough, especially coming off such a disappointing loss [the night before],” head coach Luke Pierce said following the game. “If we had won that game [against Swift Current], we might’ve given ourselves a little extra spark but there’s no excuse. [Edmonton] was going through the same thing but found a way [to win] and were smarter with their game management than [we were].”
Although the Ice scored first on Sunday afternoon with Zak Zborosky sniping home his 20th goal of the season on an early first period power play, it was the only time Kootenay would lead all night.
They got down 2-1 at the first intermission, tied it in the second, but then fell to 5-2 before getting a late goal with their netminder pulled.
Penalties played a big role in the outcome of the game as the Ice gave up eight power play chances and the Oil Kings converted on three of them. Kootenay meanwhile was only able to score on one of their own five man-advantage opportunities.
“It’s definitely hard to [be shorthanded that much],” said Ice defenceman Cale Fleury. “Once you feel like you have a rhythm and then you take a couple penalties, [it] ruins the flow a little bit offensively.”
The turning point of the night came near the midway point of the third period, when Tanner Sidaway was called for a four-minute high-sticking penalty which soon became a lengthy 5-on-3 when Troy Murray was tagged for roughing.
“I really didn’t think that [the 5-on-3] was worthy, but we need to manage our emotions better,” Pierce said. “[There were penalties that were] out of frustration, and we have to be smarter than that.”
The third period also saw a devastating blow in the form of a game misconduct for Troy Murray. Murray was charged with hitting Oil Kings defenceman Artyom Baltruk from behind and the potential ensuing suspension could make things difficult for the already injury-ridden team.
“It’s going to be a real challenge for us [coming up] — we’ll probably miss Murray [and] we’ll see what happens with Dallas Hines, but Nikita [Radzivilyuk] is out long-term so we’ll be short on the backend,” Pierce said. “Hopefully we’ll see Kaeden [Taphorn] or Max [Patterson] back sometime soon but either way we’ve got work to put in.”
Lane Bauer scored twice for the Oil Kings while Tyler Robertson had a goal and two assists to lead Edmonton to victory. For the Ice it was Zborosky, Cale Fleury and Fedor Rudakov who found the back of the net, while Matt Alfaro grabbed an assist to continue his hot streak which now sees him with 8 points in his last six games.
Payton Lee meanwhile got the start in goal for the Ice and backstopped his club admirably with 34 saves on 39 shots. Opposite of him, rookie Josh Dechaine earned his first career WHL win in his first start, stopping 36 of 39 pucks thrown at him.
After an emotional 6-5 shootout win on Wednesday against Red Deer, the Ice have dug themselves back into their familiar hole. They remain in second last place in the league and have now dipped below a 0.200 winning percentage.
“[There’s] some immaturity [in our team]. Something we talk about a lot is our game management, not getting too high when we get up and not getting too low when we get scored on,” Pierce said of the team’s struggles. “We still have a long way to go in our game management — understanding how important the last two minutes of a period are, understanding that the first shift after a timeout is important … [we] have to build [our games] one shift at a time.”
On Wednesday, the team will play their first of a three-game American road trip which begins in Everett and ends in Portland, with a stop in Seattle.
Pierce thinks the time on the road may be able to do the team some good.
“Being on the road, you can manage things a little better with [when players] are eating and resting,” he said. “That’s something our group needs, to be controlled in that manner, so they don’t get too distracted or frustrated with the way things are going.”
However, most importantly, Pierce believes the team needs to stick together and remain positive as they continue to go forward this season.
“We need to stick together even more than we are,” he said. “It’s really easy to start pointing fingers and blaming other people, and it’s a natural tendency when things don’t go your way, [but] there’s nobody else coming to help you out of it [other] than the guys in that room.
“For the most part I think we’re doing okay but we need to do a better job still of helping to motivate and encourage one another. You’ve got to always find something positive, having a negative mindset isn’t going to get you anywhere — in hockey, in life, in general — so we have to find ways to keep smiling and come to the rink and put the work in.”
The Ice’s next home game is on Tuesday, December 6 at 7:00 p.m. as they take on the powerhouse Regina Pats. Sunday’s game was the worst attended match at Western Financial Place this year, with only 1,499 people willing to skip the Grey Cup for WHL action.