The Kootenay Ice (1-7-3-1) were a significantly improved team in their rematch against the Medicine Hat Tigers (8-3-1-0) on Friday night at Western Financial Place.
Although that’s not really surprising, considering the team underwent a 10-3 thrashing by the Tigers on Wednesday and they had nowhere to go but up, the Ice showed tremendous character in making sure they were competitive in the follow-up and only lost 4-1.
With rookie Jacob Walter in net as Payton Lee battles the flu, the game wasn’t even close to being as lopsided as their last one. Kootenay generated a number of chances and had strong stretches of play but they simply weren’t able to finish with the same efficiency as their opponent.
Coach Luke Pierce was reasonably happy with the way his team initially came out on the heels of such a humiliating loss, but still was not entirely pleased with their performance.
“I thought our first five minutes were good [then] I thought we got a bit complacent in the next ten and then we [gave] up a goal late in the period again which is a killer,” Pierce said. “I saw deja-vu a little bit going into the intermission but [I was a] little bit happier with how we came out in the second.”
Just like on Wednesday, the Ice were scored on twice in the opening frame despite playing competitive back-and-forth hockey in the early stages.
John Dahlstrom picked up right where he left off after scoring a hat-trick two nights prior and put in the game’s first goal off a one-timer from Kristians Rubins. Then, with only a minute remaining in the first, Steven Owre deflated the Ice with a short-side tally from Mason Shaw and Tigers captain Clayton Kirichenko.
Although the early goings of the second period were the death blow for the Ice on Wednesday, they managed to hold on in Friday’s home game. They killed a penalty in the first quarter of the frame and four minutes later Matt Alfaro got the Ice on the board with a wrister over the glove of Medicine Hat goaltender Nick Schneider.
Unfortunately, Cale Fleury — who assisted Alfaro’s goal — received a penalty for closing his hand on the puck a minute and a half later and the Tigers seized on the man-advantage with an insurance goal from Mark Rassell, which was assisted by Owre and David Quenneville.
The Ice had new life in the third and came out with a lot of physical play to close the game. Kaedan Taphorn, who was making his return to the lineup after an injury kept him out for five games, led the charge off the hop by drawing Shaw into a slashing penalty with a big hit.
“In the second intermission, we went into the dressing room and [said we’ve got to] take some hits for the team, bang some bodies and I think we did that,” Taphorn said of their third period. “[The] game could’ve gone the other way but unfortunately we didn’t get the result we wanted.”
In the final period, the Ice had two golden breakaway chances that could’ve tied the game, but luck was not on their side. Five minutes in, Vince Loschiavo deked Schneider and was left with a gaping net but somehow put it wide. Six minutes later, Zborosky tried a similar move and had the door shut on him. The Ice then gave up an empty net goal to Matt Bradley to finish their evening.
While Pierce was happy with the way his team conducted themselves in the third, he believes they need to play at that level earlier.
“[Increasing the physicality in the first two periods] is 100 percent the issue right now,” he said. “We don’t have nearly enough sacrifice on our team, with or without the puck, we have to be hurting every night [if] we want to win games and right now we’re leaving almost every game unscathed.
“There’s a reason why [we’ve] only got one victory, winning is extremely hard to do, and we’re not paying a high enough price.”
Barrett Sheen ended the night as a -1 with two penalty minutes but seemed to have an idea of how to make the coach happier in the future.
“[We have] to play like it’s the third at the start and [know] that every shift counts,” Sheen said on improving their early aggressiveness. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the end of the game or the start of the game [we need to be physical].”
The final shot totals were 37 for the Tigers and 26 for the Ice with Walter making 33 saves in the losing effort. Medicine Hat had five powerplay chances and scored once, while the Ice had two and came up empty on them both.
The loss against the Tigers was the first of a four game home-stand which sees the Ice play the Prince George Cougars (10-2-1-0) and the Brandon Wheat Kings (4-3-2-0) twice in the coming week. Kootenay still doesn’t have a win at home this season.
“[Being at home] allows you to get more time to get some work done, and we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Pierce said on their upcoming schedule. “We’ve got real tough opponents coming in here next week … it doesn’t get any easier [and] we’re going to have to keep digging a little harder. There’s way more that we need to give physically and we got to pay the price.”
Kaeden Taphorn hopes the team can get their first home victory as soon as possible.
“[Winning at home] is very important,” he said. “The fans have been great and they deserve a win and we’ve got to give them one here.”
Their next chance to do just that is at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night against the Prince George Cougars.