If it’s one thing that’s clear after a pair of games this weekend, it’s that the Kootenay Ice still struggle with consistency.
The Ice hosted the Winterhawks and Warriors at Western Financial Place, losing 6-3 to Portland on Friday and winning 5-4 against Moose Jaw the following night.
New Ice forward Tim Bozon notched his first point as a Kootenay Ice player with an assist, while defenceman Landon Cross and Rinat Valiev made their home debut in Cranbrook.
Portland took advantage of a flat start from the Ice and were up 3-0 after 15 minutes. Their relentless forecheck and aggressive speed kept the Kootenay squad on their heels for most of the game, but the Ice did add some offence in the final period.
“That’s a real good team over there, a lot of skill, a lot of speed, a pretty good transition game, and we didn’t help ourselves,” said Austin Vetterl, who scored one of Kootenay’s goals.
“We didn’t get the puck deep early, we missed the net a lot, which helped their transition game a lot.”
Moose Jaw was the opposite, as the Ice got off to a hot start with a 3-1 lead after two periods, but nearly allowed the Warriors to come back in the final frame.
“The start was fine, the first two periods was good for us, the part that worries us, obviously, is allowing them to come back into the game,” said Ice assistant coach Jay Henderson.
Both Mackenzie Skapski and Wyatt Hoflin split the starts; the former against the Winterhawks and the latter against the Warriors.
Skapski had a rough night, with six goals in 38 shots against Portland, while Hoflin surrendered four goals in the same number of shots against Moose Jaw.
The Winterhawks, the reigning WHL championship squad, took advantage of a slow Kootenay start, and drew blood 60 seconds into the game on a goal from Nic Petan.
Chase De Leo doubled the lead when he received a behind-the-net pass and flipped the puck on net and in.
De Leo notched another goal ten minutes later, throwing the puck on goal from the sideboards that somehow rolled up and underneath Skapski’s arm into the cage.
Sam Reinhart finally responded for Kootenay on a late power play, snapping a shot past Portland netminder Jarrod Schamerhorn.
The Ice were badly outplayed in the period, reflected by shots on goal, as Portland led 17-6.
The two teams held each other to a draw in the second period, but the goals piled up in the final frame.
Austin Vetterl pulled the Ice within one by sneaking a low shot past Schamerhorn four minutes in.
However, the Winterhawks scored two quick and deflating goals, as Derek Pouliot and Josh Hanson beat Skapski high glove side on similiar looking shots from the point.
Kootenay put in a strong shift with some good pressure in Portland’s zone, and were rewarded when Zak Zborosky capitalized during a scramble in front of the net at the halfway mark.
Keegan Iverson answered back 43 seconds later, as Portland rode out the rest of the game to win 6-3.
“They came out to a strong start and we didn’t match that, and it was too little, too late,” said Henderson. “Definitely the effort wasn’t there and too many turnovers and it definitely cost us.”
Kootenay cleaned up their start against Moose Jaw, leading 3-1 after two periods, but the Warriors nearly battled their way back to a tie in the third frame.
Jeff Hubic had a productive night while working on the blue line, with three assists.
“I thought he played extremely well,” said Henderson. “As far as defence goes, its somewhat new for him as far as positioning goes, but I thought he played extremely well and definitely reliable out there.”
Hubic’s first apple came on a slap pass to Reinhart, who redirected the puck into the net for Kootenay’s first goal.
He notched his second in the middle frame while clearing the puck out of the zone on a penalty kill, which went right to Landon Peel, who busted out of the penalty box and scored on a breakaway.
Descheneau took advantage of a rebound in front of Warriors goaltender Justin Paulic on an Ice powerplay to make it 3-0 roughly halfway through the game.
Moose Jaw was able put themselves up on the board late in the period on an effort from Jack Rodewald.
Descheneau tallied again when he walked into the slot from the sideboards with a nice toe-drag to beat Paulic for a 4-1 lead in the third period.
However, Rodewald responded a few minutes later, when a shot from the point redirected right to his stick for an open net with Hoflin out of position.
Kootenay restored their three-goal lead just over a minute later, when Kyle O’Connor picked up a rebound in front of the net, spun around and fired the puck into the corner. Hubic picked up his third assist on the marker.
With 10 minutes to go, the wheels fell off a bit for the Ice, which allowed two quick goals that made for a tense finish.
On similar looking shots, Brayden Point and Torrin Whyte both beat Hoflin low on the glove side in a span of under two minutes to trail by one with eight minutes remaining in the game.
The Warriors buzzed the Kootenay zone in the final minute with six attackers and an empty net, but the Ice were able to hang on for the win.
“We’re in command and control throughout the first two periods and we found a way to let them back in the game and that’s a little concerning,” said Henderson, “but ultimately we got the two points, and that’s the biggest concern, but we do have some stuff to fix, for sure.”
Bozon also drew two assists on Descheneau’s goals, while Valiev and Zborosky both picked up some points.
Kootenay is starting to get some scoring that is more distributed throughout the lineup, which is a good sign, said Henderson.
“It definitely helps, it takes a lot of pressure off Jaedon and Sam and with the new guys coming too, that’s going to help alleviate some of that pressure, and it makes it a lot easier on ourselves when we have production from all four lines,” Henderson said.
“You need secondary scoring to win, you can’t rely on certain people every night,” Descheneau said.
Mike Dyck, who is helping out Henderson when McGill takes off for the World Juniors, joined the Kootenay Ice on the bench for both games.
NOTES: In a move that shouldn’t be too surprising, Brent Sutter and Ryan McGill were named to Team WHL’s coaching staff for the Subway Super Series on Friday. The Super Series features a Russian junior squad that tours through the QMJHL, OHL, and WHL with two games in each league along the way. The event is billed as a tune up to look at which players could be representing their country at the World Junior Championships, as Sutter and McGill are on Team Canada’s coaching staff. Benoit Groulx, who will join Sutter and McGill on the bench with Team Canada, is the QMJHL’s head coach for the Super Series. Red Deer and Lethbridge are hosting the two WHL games and the roster should be unveiled this week.