The number three was a recurring theme for the Kootenay Ice this weekend, which picked up a trio of points over three nights in games against the Saskatoon Blades and the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Kootenay fell 4-2 to the Blades in Western Financial Place on Friday, then headed up to Edmonton for a pair of tilts, where they came out with a 4-3 win on Saturday and a 3-2 overtime loss on Sunday.
The Ice got some reinforcements in the defensive corps on Saturday night, as Russian import defenceman Rinat Valiev finally settled his visa issues and flew into Alberta to join the team.
Rookie Hudson Elynuik also picked a good time to score his first career WHL goal, which stood to be the game-winner on Saturday night.
Utility man Jeff Hubic remained in the defensive corps to cover the absence of the injured Tanner Faith, who is out indefinitely with an upper body injury.
“I think my role is to just keep it simple,” said Hubic. “That’s how I’m trying to do everything.”
Goaltending duties were split up, with Wyatt Hoflin standing in net against the Blades, while Mackenzie Skapski manned the crease for both games against the Oil Kings.
Hoflin surrendered three goals in 29 shots for the loss, while Skapski was beat three times on Saturday in 31 shots and allowed the same number of goals in 26 shots on Sunday.
Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill lamented last week that he wasn’t getting enough secondary scoring, however, that changed this weekend as players other than Sam Reinhart or Jaedon Descheneau found the back of the net.
Hubic and Austin Vetterl both scored their first goals of the season to mark Kootenay’s only offence against the Blades.
Hubic pinched in from the point and collected his own rebound for his goal, while Vetterl waited out the goaltender and sniped the five-hole on an odd-man rush.
Reinhart and Descheneau did everything they could to score; the former rang a shot off the iron and the latter missed a wide-open net, however, both collected assists on Hubic’s goal.
At the first intermission of the game, Vicki Syfchuck, who was participating in a breast cancer fundraiser, was released from the comforts of a 2014 Sierra GM truck, where she had been spending the last 30 hours.
Collin Valcourt broke a 2-2 tie in the third period and Clayton Kirichenko scored on the empty net as the Blades took away the win.
“We expected what we got,” said Vetterl. “They’re [Blades] a very hard-working team, very different from last year. They got pucks to the net, they drove the net, got a lot of second chances and they worked real hard.”
Kootenay ate dinner right after the game and piled into the bus for an overnight trip to Edmonton for their meetings with the Oil Kings.
Both teams traded goal for goal in the first, second and third periods, before Elynuik got his powerplay marker to end it all with just under three minutes to go.
Kootenay’s earlier offence came from Collin Shirley, Descheneau and Levi Cable, two of which came with the man-advantage.
“Our powerplay had a killer instinct on Saturday night on last two powerplays, scoring a goal on our last powerplay with under three minutes to go, so that was a huge break for us,” said McGill.
Playing in his first career WHL game, Valiev picked up an assist on Cable’s goal. Valiev arrived in Calgary on Friday afternoon, traveled up to Edmonton in time to suit up for the game, and made a pretty good impression on McGill.
“He played very well, he’s got really good instincts with the puck,” McGill said. “He defends pretty good, too. Obviously, he hasn’t played in a while and hasn’t had a training camp, other than the fact that he went to Traverse City with Dallas [Stars], but at the same time, it’ll take him this week to get up to speed.”
Following the win, the Ice had two disallowed goals in a rematch on Sunday afternoon, which ended in a 3-2 overtime loss.
Both teams traded goals in the first and second period, but no one lit the goal lamp in the final frame.
Goals came from Shirley and Luke Philp at even strength. The Oil Kings had 23 seconds of a powerplay in OT remaining from the third period, and Henrik Samuelsson found a hole to win the game for Edmonton.
“We took an undisciplined penalty and unfortunately couldn’t kill it off and even though it wasn’t a powerplay goal—our guy was out of the box—we just couldn’t get the job done,” said McGill.
Kootenay was shut out in three powerplays, while Edmonton capitalized once in six chances with the man-advantage.
NOTES: With Valiev’s arrival to the Ice, there could be some roster moves from the club this week, however, Faith’s injury might stall that process. Even though the Kootenay gave up six powerplay opportunities on Sunday, they are are still the least-penalized team in the WHL. Kootenay’s effectiveness with the man-advantage on Saturday night bumped up their powerplay ranking to third in the WHL.