Although they couldn’t pull out a win, the Kootenay Ice stunned the Regina Pats last night.
The Ice scored three goals in just over five minutes to open the second period and proved that they are not a team to be taken lightly, only falling in overtime by a score of 5-4 to the consensus number one team in the country.
The Pats have a 19-2-4-0 record so far this season with a 0.840 winning percentage.
“It’s frustrating, I thought our start was really good again,” said head coach Luke Pierce following the game. “I didn’t think [the Pats] were at their best at the start, but in the second half they played really hard and we found a way to go stride-for-stride with them.
“There were some encouraging things, but the moral victories are starting to get old and we’ve got to find a way to close [games] out.”
As was the case throughout their recent road trip, Kootenay played well in the opening period.
They played a simple physical game in the first 20 minutes but were not rewarded with the game’s first goal.
Jake Leschyshyn opened the scoring with a gritty effort in front of Payton Lee’s net at the midway point of the first period to put the Pats up 1-0.
The goal did not take any life out of the Kootenay side, however, who kept up their early energy and gained momentum off of two power play opportunities to close out the opening frame.
Although they failed to convert on these man advantages, they came up big early in the second with not one, but two goals in the first minute.
“[Being patient] is huge for us and I think we’ve done a better job in the past couple of weeks of knowing when we’re playing well and staying with our plan,” Pierce said. “We showed that resiliency tonight and it was so huge for us to get those early goals in the second period.”
Vince Loschiavo got the party started with an amazing tip in front of the net that beat a helpless Tyler Brown in the Pats’ net.
Moments later, Noah Philp came streaking in and picked the top corner on an odd-man rush, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
After being stoned by Brown early, the Ice started putting their shots up high and Jake Elmer nearly put them up by three but heard his shot ring off the crossbar.
In the rare position of being down a goal, the Pats looked considerably shaken up and the hard-hitting Ice drew them into taking penalties.
Adam Brooks went off for interference and was joined by Dawson Leedahl a minute later, who was tagged for goalie interference,
On the 5-on-3, the Ice generated tremendous pressure, but it was an odd bounce that found Zak Zborosky one-on-one with Brown that allowed them to break through.
The goal was Zborosky’s 22nd of the year and kept him tied at the top of the WHL in that category.
Kootenay continued to buzz with the 3-1 lead and Loschiavo nearly put in another marker but was robbed by the goaltender’s paddle as he found himself at the side of an open cage.
The Ice couldn’t keep up the pressure in the second half of the middle period, and Sam Steel popped in two goals to allow his team to go into the second intermission tied 3-3.
Although the Pats grabbed an early go-ahead goal in the third, when Adam Brooks put in a rebound chance just three and half minutes into the period, the Ice didn’t quit and Loschiavo tied the contest with nine minutes to go.
His tally was a long-distance wrister from the top of the circle, fed to him by linemate Zak Zborosky.
The goal was Loschiavo’s second of the night, and fourth in his past three games. His chemistry playing with Zborosky and Matt Alfaro has been noticeable.
“It’s been pretty good [playing with those two],” Loschiavo said. “They make it a lot easier out there and they’ve been playing great as well.”
“It’s working really well,” he said. “[Alfaro’s] very good on the forecheck, hitting guys and turning over pucks and Vince is a really skilled guy with a great shot.”
Loschiavo nearly grabbed a hat-trick in style, but hit a post in the 3-on-3 overtime session .
The night was eventually won by Riley Woods who managed to ensure that his team came out with the win.
Although it was not the ending the Ice, or their 1538 fans in attendance, were looking for the close affair was the third time this year that the Ice have taken the Pats to overtime.
Pierce was happy with his team’s effort against the Pats and was especially pleased that the entire lineup is pitching in.
“At times throughout the year, we’ve relied too much on Matt [Alfaro] and Zak [Zborosky], and they get worn down too,” he said. “Since our game against Seattle [on Friday], we’ve had contributions from all four lines.
“The King-Sidaway-Taphorn line was excellent for us in the first period and gave us some energy… they played against [Adam] Brooks’ line for a full shift [and] if we can start finding guys who can play against other team’s top players and free up [our stars]… that would be the next step for us.”
Although, he’s pleased with how they’ve done against a team as talented as the Pats, Pierce said he’s slightly relieved that they won’t have to play them again this season.
“We’ve played them as well as any team has [and] that’s a positive sign … but in general, I’m happy not to have to see them again.”
The Ice will look to continue their strong play in their road match against the Spokane Chiefs on Friday and then back home against the Kelowna Rockets on Saturday.