The Kootenay Ice pulled in a harvest over the weekend, dumping the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings in back-to-back contests to extend their win streak to three games.
Kootenay steamrolled to a 5-3 victory on Friday after scoring four goals in the first period and rode that success into Saturday, building on a 2-0 lead after the opening frame to end the game at a score of 4-0.
Goaltender Mackenzie Skapski earned the win in both games, collecting his second shutout over the last three games, while a strong Kootenay offence caused a lot of misery at the opposite end of the rink.
“I’m having fun,” said Skapski, who also held the Hitmen scoreless a week ago in Calgary. “I came into Calgary’s game and I started to have a little bit of fun and it’s amazing when you have fun how far it goes.”
Ice sniper Sam Reinhart, who was gone during the middle of the week while playing for Team WHL for a game in the Subway Super Series against the Russians, returned and made an immediate impact, scoring three goals over both games.
Reinhart said the victory against the Hitmen created some positive momentum for everyone.
“To win 4-0 [in Calgary] was huge for our team,” said Reinhart, after Friday’s victory. “I missed all week of practice, but I can only imagine the mood in the room was really positive moving forward to these two games.”
Also back in the lineup was Luke Philp, who has recovered from appendicitis, which required surgery and knocked the rookie out for the last five games. Philp made his presence known, posting an assist in the first game and scoring in the second.
Because of the length of the trip out to Cranbrook, the WHL opted to schedule two home games against the Wheat Kings, however, the Ice will return the favour in February, with back-to-back games in Brandon.
Friday’s matchup coincided with School Spirit Night, which packed Western Financial Place with it’s largest attendance of the year with roughly 3,000 fans that created an electric atmosphere.
Highlands, Gordon Terrace and Kootenay Christian Academy each won the $500, provided by Western Financial Group, for having the most school spirit. However, each of the seven other schools didn’t walk away empty handed, as Flaman Fitness made a surprise announcement to pitch in $250 to all the seven runner-ups.
Within a span of two minutes and 30 seconds, the Ice took a three-goal lead in the opening period before the Wheat Kings responded to stem the damage.
Austin Vetterl put in a backhand past Wheaties netminder Corbin Boes at the side of the net nearly five minutes into the contest to put the Ice ahead. One minute later, Jaedon Descheneau collected the puck at the boards on the side of the face-off circle and cut into the slot to roof a shot stick side. Reinhart tripled the lead 33 seconds later, after Brock Montgomery stole the puck near the slot and fed his teammate, who crossed the crease and lifted the biscuit over Boes’ glove.
With five minutes remaining in the period, Jayce Hawryluk picked up a puck in the Kootenay zone, and the centreman spun and fired it past Skapski.
However, Collin Shirley scored a power play goal a minute and a half later, taking a pass from Descheneau and snapping a shot from the top of the slot.
That would be it for Boes for the rest of the weekend, as Curtis Honey manned the crease for the remaining two periods and the following evening.
Kootenay’s power play produced again in the middle frame, as Kyle O’Connor poked the puck across the goal line after Honey bobbled a save on Philp for the period’s only goal.
The Wheaties made a game of it in the final frame, as Ryan Pulock blasted a slap shot that deflected past Skapski on the power play, while Alessio Bertaggia scored near the halfway mark of the period, but Kootenay held firm after that.
Pulock, 18, had his slap shot clocked at 101 miles per hour during Brandon’s skills competition a couple weeks ago, and Skapski knew he’d have to be sharp.
“It’s definitely one of the best in the league, that’s for sure,” said Skapski. “I haven’t seen anything like it, but it’s something you got to face being a goaltender.”
Skapski ended the night with 32 saves, while the Ice fired a total of 35 shots on net between Boes and Honey.
Kootenay was good two power play goals in four chances, while Brandon capitalized once in three opportunities.
Skapski earned his third shutout of the year the following night, making 31 saves as the team in front of him scored four times to earn the win.
It was 2-0 on a pair of goals from Reinhart, as the Ice once again took an early lead. Reinhart made a highlight reel play while gaining the zone and cutting to the net on his backhand, before suddenly spinning and firing a shot from his forehand at a sharp angle over Honey’s shoulder for his first marker.
Reinhart scored again from almost the exact same spot on a two-man advantage, taking a pass from Jagger Dirk and firing the puck into the net while Honey was out of position.
The two teams held each other scoreless for the middle frame and most of the third, but Kootenay posted two late goals from Luke Philp and Zach McPhee.
With four minutes to go, McPhee capitalized on his own rebound off an odd man rush, while Philp redirected a pass when he drove to the net 26 seconds later.
Kootenay’s power play was good for one goal in four chances, while the Wheat Kings were shut out in all six opportunities.
Skapski’s work between the pipes over the last three games is a large part of Kootenay’s recent success, but he also credits his team for working hard to limit dangerous offensive chances.
“These past three games, it’s been a quick turnaround and we’re kind of buying in,” Skapski said. “One win leads to two wins and two wins leads to three wins and hopefully we can keep this going and make something out of it.”