Another day, another game, another single-goal loss for the Kootenay Ice.
As has been the case in nine of the team’s first ten games, on Saturday night the final score between the Ice and their opponent was only one digit different. This time, it was 2-1 in favour of the visiting Red Deer Rebels.
It was the Ice’s second game of a back-to-back home stand and, just like the night before, it ended with an overtime loss.
Despite the exact same outcome, coach Luke Pierce thought the team showed signs of improvement against Red Deer.
“It was better, I thought we did some really good things, [we] needed to control a little more in the [neutral] zone [but] I thought the last half of the second period we did a real good job of that,” Pierce said on the team’s performance to start the game.
“It was an improvement and that’s a positive sign.”
After Friday’s game, Pierce was very displeased with the team’s first period effort which he said was one of the worst of the year. The Ice responded well on Saturday and kept the Rebels to eight shots and zero goals in a competitive opening frame.
By the end of the night, though, Pierce had another issue to bother him: discipline.
“Our penalty kill has been real good but we surrender one goal, it seems, every night on the [penalty] kill and that’s because [we’re] taking too many [penalties],” Pierce explained. “If you eliminate that goal, it changes the dynamic of every game.
“Today, I thought our powerplay was bad up until the end of the second period [and] we need to capitalize on those opportunities more [as well].”
The Ice took six minor penalties on the night while the Rebels had eight, leading to a game where special teams were frequently put on display.
After both teams failed to score on the man-advantage in the first period, the Rebels got a chance at a 5-on-3 powerplay early in the second after Ryan Pouliot was called for tripping a minute after Dylan Stewart had been booked for hooking.
Although the Ice killed off the two-man-advantage, they couldn’t hold on much longer. Ten seconds after Stewart stepped out of the box Rebels’ forward Evan Polei banged home the game’s first goal on the 5-on-4.
Pouliot, however, made up for his costly penalty. Less than five minutes after giving up the lead, Pouliot fed Keenan Taphorn in close at the side of the net for the game-tying goal.
After the Ice evened the score, the game developed into an entertaining back-and-forth affair, with neither team being able to find an edge. In the closing stages, there were some very near chances for both sides but the goaltenders stayed sharp and sent the game into an extra frame.
Although the Ice were fortunate enough to start off the overtime period with a 4-on-3 powerplay, they were not able to convert despite generating considerable pressure. Colton Bobyk ultimately ended the night, as he took a shot from the point with less than 20 seconds remaining that beat Lee and sent the Rebels home victorious.
While the weekend didn’t go the way they would’ve drawn it up, overall the Ice seemed encouraged by their results, even though they admitted that it’s hard to feel too excited by losses.
“[We] came out of this weekend with two points but it doesn’t feel the same [as getting a win],” Pierce said. “It’s disheartening but if you look at the big picture [it’s a positive step] and we’ve got to find some small victories.”
“Our guys just have to stick with the plan and it’ll start to turn around.”
Keenan Taphorn, who was named the game’s first star in the loss, was disappointed that they weren’t able to give the Cranbrook fans a win.
“It’s definitely important [for us] to get the crowd a win … they’ve supported us every game so far and [to] not to get a win is quite frustrating,” he said. “If we get some wins I bet they’ll be behind us for the rest of the season.”
The brightest spot of the weekend, however, was goaltender Payton Lee who made 87 saves in a 48-hour window and left everything he had out on the ice.
“I was pretty sick [Friday] night, I was dehydrated so I wasn’t sure [about playing Saturday],” Lee said. “I made the call at around 3 … I was feeling good enough to battle through.
“It’ll be nice to get a day off tomorrow and try to replenish a bit.”
Pierce wasn’t surprised that Lee was able to overcome his struggles and pull off another great game.
“It’s great for him personally and huge for our team [to play so well] because I think he gives our guys confidence,” Pierce said. “We need to do a better job in front of him at times but as a young team we’re going to get outshot, and that’s why you need a guy like that to give you that backbone.”
The Ice now have a few days off before travelling to Medicine Hat to play the Tigers on Wednesday night.