It was not the start the Kootenay Ice wanted.
After three minutes of play, the Ice were down 2-0 to the reigning WHL champions as the Edmonton Oil Kings capitalized off some early mistakes and rode an early lead towards an eventual win.
Kootenay opened the new season on the road against the Oil Kings, suffering a 5-3 loss as they tried to claw back from those early mistakes, but were weighed down by a sloppy first period.
Kootenay head coach Ryan McGill wasn’t impressed.
“We gave up way too many goals tonight off of poor mistakes that are easily correctable,” he said.
Ice goaltender Mackenzie Skapski, who is looking to earn the number one spot, got the start, but struggled in the crease, letting in two goals off of sharp angle shots that he’d probably like to have back.
Over the course of the game, Skapski made 28 saves, while Laurent Brossoit, who stood in goal for the Oil Kings, turned away 25 pucks.
The Ice had a better effort in the second period, scoring twice while limiting the Oil Kings to one goal, but Edmonton struck again in the third to dim the hopes of a Kootenay comeback.
The early deficit made playing catch-up difficult, but not impossible, according to McGill.
“You know you got enough time to do things right, you know you got enough time to get back in the game and every time we got back in the game, we didn’t continue it,” he said.
Ice defenseman Spencer Wand had to leave and is day-to-day with an upper body injury, according to McGill.
Being that it was the opening game, Kootenay had to sit through the banner-raising ceremony as Edmonton celebrated its 2012 WHL championship in front of 11,000 fans at Rexall Place.
Mark Messier, a former Edmonton Oiler, did the ceremonial puck drop, with Sam Reinhart facing his older brother Griffin at centre ice, who was recently named captain of the Oil Kings.
With all that energy in the building, it didn’t take long for the goal lamp to light.
Edmonton struck within the first two minutes when Michael St. Croix capitalized on a rebound after Mitch Moroz drove the puck to the net.
Less than two minutes later, Brandon Baddock scored his first WHL goal on a weak angle shot that Skapski would surely like back.
But Jon Martin eventually responded with the Kootenay Ice’s first regular season goal, tipping a shot from Joey Leach over the shoulder of Brossoit near the end of the period.
The Ice kept up the pressure for the remainder of the frame, but Oil Kings defenseman Keegan Lowe wristed a shot from the blue line past Skapski with a minute left.
The Ice had a much better second period, scoring two goals and holding the Oil Kings to only one marker.
Ice defenseman Tanner Muth took a feed from Jaedon Descheneau and wristed a shot from the point, which beat Brossoit as Sam Reinhart acted as a screen 5:15 into the middle frame.
The Oil Kings took advantage of a power play seven minutes later, scoring when Henrik Samuelsson got a third whack at the puck just outside the crease.
However, the Ice answered when Jagger Dirk slapped a shot from the outside hash marks on the man-advantage, which deflected off Brock Montgomery and sailed past Brossoit.
On the pugilistic side of things, Lowe and Ice defenseman Jeff Hubic took coincidental unsportsmanlike conducts after being split up by the zebras when trying to fight. The moment they left the penalty boxes, the mitts came off and they went at it in earnest, which ended up with both of them on the ice after a few swings.
Riding a 4-3 lead into the final period, the Oil Kings played cautiously, and the Ice seemed to play a little tentatively as well in an effort to curb mistakes.
But the Oil Kings drew blood again with 10 minutes to go on a weird goal, as Cole Benson threw the puck at the net, but Skapski couldn’t find it in his feet and an errant pad kicked it across the goal line.
The first unit of Montgomery, Erik Benoit and Reinhart wreaked a lot of havoc in the Oil Kings’ offensive zone, even though there was only one goal to show for their efforts.
Benoit and Reinhart both had quality chances to put the puck into the back of the net, but Brossoit was sharp and made a number of key saves.
Despite that, McGill is confident that his number one line knows their responsibilities.
“I thought they generated some offence, I think they realize that they’re keyed-on,” McGill said. “They’re going to have to really make sure they don’t take any shortcuts and really make sure they keep it fairly simple because they’re going to be a keyed-on line.”
Kootenay will head south to Calgary for their second game of the road trip agains the Hitmen on Saturday night.
McGill doesn’t anticipate a lot of tweaks to the roster, but hasn’t yet decided if Wyatt Hoflin will get the start over Skapski.
However, he knows what the team must do in order to have a chance at getting a different result.
“We need to limit our mistakes in critical areas, we need to do a better job on our special teams and our goaltenders need to make the saves that they need to make,” McGill said.