Heading into Friday night’s game, Luke Pierce had one important focus for his team: the third period.
Upset with how his team finished games during their three-game road trip over Thanksgiving weekend, the head coach of the Kootenay Ice (1-5-2-1) spent the entire week in practice emphasizing the importance of the team maintaining their focus right to the end of games.
The team certainly took that message to heart in their 5-4 overtime loss to the Regina Pats (5-0-3-0). They controlled the play in the third and did not let any fatigue show. Unfortunately, they forgot about the other periods. Namely, the first.
“I think we should be in jail for stealing a point, our goaltender was phenomenal [but] it might’ve been our worst first period all year,” Pierce said following the game.
“Maybe [because in practice] the only thing we were thinking about was the third we forgot there was two before that.”
The Ice were outshot in the opening frame 23 to six but managed to enter the first intermission only down 2-1 thanks to the outstanding play of goalie Payton Lee who finished the game with 52 saves.
“Getting outshot like that to start the game was horrible and we can’t let that happen,” said Zak Zborosky, who got the Ice’s lone first period tally, one of two for him on the night. “[After that] you’re kind of just fighting back the whole way and we kind of got lucky a few times [to eventually, briefly get the lead].”
Zborosky gave credit to Lee for his play but was once again frustrated that they couldn’t give him a better reward.
“Payton Lee’s performance was unbelievable [but] it’s just too bad we couldn’t get him another win, I don’t know what else the guy can do … it’s not his fault ever, hopefully we can start playing better in front of him.”
After they fell to 3-1 midway through the third, Kootenay started to show resiliency and had life breathed back into their game from an unlikely 5-on-3 shorthanded goal by Matt Alfaro.
“The team needed a big boost and to even kill off a 5-on-3 is good [but] to get a 5-on-3 goal [is amazing],” Alfaro said, who buried a breakaway goal while down two men. “I did it last year so to do it again was great.”
Minutes later Vince Loschiavo kept the Ice rolling scoring his first goal of the year on a good group effort with assists credited to Dylan Stewart and Reed Morison.
The already physical game then took a descent into even further nastiness in the third period after Nick Henry caught Loschiavo with a hit from behind past the Ice’s goalline. On the ensuing powerplay, Alfaro connected with Zborosky for the go-ahead goal.
Down by a goal, Pats forward Luc Smith went on a rampage of questionable hits which ended in a fracas that saw 29 penalty minutes called and the Ice’s Barrett Sheen’s night end with a misconduct. In total, there were 52 penalty minutes between the two teams at the end of the night.
Although Pierce was happy with the way his team kept their cool and didn’t get drawn into too many unnecessary penalties, he said he wished they could’ve been more aggressive.
“The short answer is I was happy with [our discipline],” he said. “I wasn’t happy early on [though], we should’ve been a lot harder on them.”
Pierce explained that he thought the team should’ve been a lot more motivated by the events of last Friday’s game against the Pats, which saw rookie Kaeden Taphorn injured on a dangerous hit from behind by Austin Wagner.
“We had a player get 30 stitches – a pretty serious injury – and [he] still isn’t in our lineup and he’s 16 years old. I know that retribution or any of that stuff in hockey now is at times uncalled for but I thought we could’ve played them a lot harder and we didn’t.
“They woke us up by attacking us and being a little physical and I thought we responded well after that.”
The Pats ended up tying the game with under ten minutes to go. A too-many-men call with five seconds to go in regulation then forced them to start overtime at 4-on-3. Connor Hobbs scored the game-winner on the man advantage to end the Ice’s night after just under a minute and a half of extra play.
Although the team was disappointed by the loss, and even more frustrated with their first period play, they once again picked up a point against a Regina Pats team that is considered to be one of the best in the entire CHL. The Ice beat the Pats last Friday 4-3 in overtime.
“We’ve got three out of four points against [them],” Pierce said. “A lot of credit [goes] to our goalie but at the same time we’re a very young hockey team and [the Pats are] a very, very good hockey team.”
The Ice are back in action again Saturday night as they take on the Red Deer Rebels for the first time this year. After tonight, Pierce expects to see a much more consistent effort in all three periods against the Rebels.
“We’ve got to get back to focusing on our starts, which have been pretty good, and playing right through the full 60 [minutes]. It’s the oldest cliche in the book [but] there’s a reason it keeps being talked about.”
Puck drop tomorrow is at 7 p.m. at Western Financial Place.