Normally, two wins out of three games over a weekend isn’t such a bad thing, however, the third game was the one the Kootenay Ice really needed to take away.
A solid home effort by the Ice produced a 4-1 win over the Spokane Chiefs and a 4-0 shutout of the Moose Jaw Warriors, but the Tigers edged out a 3-2 win in Medicine Hat to keep a grip on the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“Lots of people have mentioned the standings, but really, within our group, everyday needs to be a day where we’re improving and preparing for each game we have,” said Ice assistant coach Chad Kletzel. “So we prepared the same as we had prepared for other games.”
Trevor Cox broke a 1-1 tie with a pair of goals in the third period to give the Tigers the lead and some insurance.
Jaedon Descheneau scored in the final minute with an extra attacker to make it 3-2, but an Ice comeback fell short.
Kootenay initially had the lead when Brock Montgomery scored in the opening period, but Curtis Valk drew both sides even in the middle frame.
Ice goaltender Mackenzie Skapski made 20 saves, while Cam Lanigan turned away 27 shots for the Tigers.
Sunday’s game was the third in as many nights for the Ice, and while it’s important to stay on top of the physical wear and tear, the mental side of the game needs attention as well, said Kletzel.
“I think its definitely a challenge when you have three games in three nights and I think the biggest challenge is mentally and making sure you’re ready to do what’s expected of you as a player, as an individual, and then as a team,” said Kletzel.
“I think as a group, we struggled a little bit with that in different times in games and, at other times, we displayed that we could do that, but it wasn’t as consistent as our two efforts the night before.”
In all four meetings between the Ice and the Tigers, the home team has taken the win—each side sitting with a pair of victories.
The road has been tough for the Ice this season, with a 9-16-1 record while home ice has been friendlier with a record of 17-12-1.
Before hitting the road on Sunday, the Ice bested the Chiefs and the Warriors at Western Financial Place on Friday and Saturday.
In six periods of play, Skapski only allowed one goal by Mitch Holmberg of the Chiefs in the second frame of Friday’s matchup.
“I felt comfortable, I felt in the groove,” said Skapski, after the game against Spokane. “I was a little unhappy with some of my rebounds—that’s a minor adjustment I can make—but for the most part, I felt smooth out there.”
His shutout streak ran 116:58 consecutive minutes over the course of the weekend, after Spokane’s goal, throughout the Warrior’s game and into the contest against the Tigers.
Sam Reinhart’s 16-game point streak ended at the end of the Chiefs game, as the first line of Reinhart, Deschenau and Collin Shirley were shut down by Spokane.
However, the second line and third lines became the story of the night, supplying the offence that lifted Kootenay over the the Chiefs.
Jon Martin opened the scoring in the first period, and Levi Cable doubled the lead three minutes later for a two-goal lead after 20 minutes.
Holmberg responded with a powerplay marker in the following frame, but Luke Philp and Austin Vetterl answered back with goals in the third period for the Ice.
The third line of Vetterl, Martin and Zach McPhee proved that the team can get scoring from anywhere in the lineup.
Vetterl and Martin had a goal each, the former collecting an assist as well, while McPhee ended the night with two helpers.
“It feels good, knowing that we haven’t been doing so well offensively, so it’s good to get going and help the team out.” said Vetterl.
“Yea, it was kinda nice,” echoed McPhee. “Usually we go out and crash and bang and try to create energy for guys, but tonight we got a couple goals, so it was a pretty good feeling for us, for sure.”
Vetterl’s goal chased Spokane’s starter Eric Williams from the net and Garret Hughson came in for relief in the final ten minutes of the game.
Skapski earned his fifth career shutout on Saturday night in a 4-0 decision over the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Kootenay built on an early lead from Shirley in the opening frame, while Jagger Dirk, Reinhart and Cable added goals over the following two periods.
“We played extremely well defensively. Forwards are doing a good job coming back, picking up guys on the back check, defencemen had good sticks, good gaps so they couldn’t make any fancy one-on-one plays on us,” said Dirk, who picked up his third goal of the season.
Shirley and Reinhart got the first line back on the board after being shut out against the Chiefs, while Descheneau collected two assists.
“It’s been a few games since I’ve been in this position,” said Shirley. “I guess it’s just the hard work has paid off and, obviously, playing with Sam and Descheneau helps a lot. Just take pucks wide and throw them on net and good things happen.”
Kootenay puts its 10-game home win streak on the line this Wednesday when the visiting Victoria Royals come to town.