At the end of the third act, all hope seemed lost. After fighting so hard, the underdogs once again found themselves at their wit’s end. Following 60 minutes of heart-pumping action, filled with twists and turns, they only had one chance to make it out alive.
And then it happened. A young hero grabbed his shot at redemption and avenged his fallen twin brother. They had won. They were safe. At last, the Kootenay Ice had won their first game of the season.
Last Friday’s game between the Ice and the Regina Pats could have easily been a Hollywood blockbuster.
After losing their first five games by a single goal, Kootenay — at the bottom of the league standings — earned their first win against the Top-10-in-the-CHL ranked Pats in dramatic fashion.
Halfway through the first period Kaeden Taphorn was forced to exit the game after Pats defenceman Austin Wagner hit his head into the boards from behind, leaving him pouring with blood. A fight ensued between Wagner and defenceman Troy Murray but the Ice kept their cool.
As a result of the ensuing powerplay, Kootenay started to build their lead, which by the first intermission was a 3-0 cushion. After the break, the Pats came out firing on all cylinders and the Ice lost their lead, giving up the tying marker at the beginning of the third period.
They hung on by a string and then just when it seemed like they were going to suffer the same fate as they had every night before, Keenan Taphorn was sprung on a break and buried his chance for an overtime game-winner.
Now, only a week later, the sequel is already on hand, as the Pats visit Cranbrook for a rematch on Friday.
Last game’s villain, Wagner, is back in the Pats lineup after being suspended for the past two games and last year’s WHL leading scorer, Adam Brooks, will be playing in his second game back in the league after getting a chance at Toronto Maple Leafs training camp.
Ice coach Luke Pierce, however, is much less romantic about the seemingly epic game.
“We’re mainly focused on the process, just making sure we’re getting better,” he said. “[If we do that], the wins will start to come and we feel confident about that. It’d be nice to get [a home win] out of the way early and I think our fans deserve it — they’ve been great — we just need a little bit extra and we’ll come out on the right side.”
Pierce doesn’t see the game as being about revenge or redemption in any way, but just another stiff test against one of the best team’s in the league.
“I think we did a good job [last game] right after [the Wagner hit], the way you make them pay is by scoring goals and we got our revenge in that sense,” he said. “I think it’s just extra motivation for our guys to compete.
“We have to play them hard, there’s no question, [but] the game doesn’t allow for retribution anymore and we just have to focus on making sure we try to hurt them on the scoreboard.”
Although he couldn’t make any guarantees, Pierce said he is hopeful that Kaeden Taphorn could be back for Friday’s game. He missed the last two contests after receiving close to 30 stitches in his face as a result of the hit.
“There’s a chance [he could be back], just as long as there’s no risk of tearing stitches or infection,” he said on Taphorn’s status. “He’s a tough kid [and I] give him credit. We hope to see him back, we’ve certainly missed him the last two games.”
The Ice also must accommodate another new arrival to the series in Adam Brooks. Brooks was recently cut from his shot at making the professional leagues this year and is looking to build upon his 2015-16 campaign where he got a league-best 120 points in 72 games.
In his WHL-return on Wednesday against the Portland Winterhawks, Brooks scored two goals.
“He’s a very dynamic player and he adds to their already potent offense so it’s just another wrinkle to the game plan,” he said on the adjustments his team will have to make. “We obviously have a bit of confidence [having beat the Pats last week] but we have to understand that they’re going to come in looking for retribution.
“They’re going to be a much better team especially to start. We’re not going to catch them sleeping and we’ve got to be ready to go.”
According to Pierce, Payton Lee will start in net on Friday and if he’s good, he’ll be back for their next game. The Ice are carrying three goaltenders on their roster, but are still expected to re-assign one of them by the end of the week.
On Saturday, the Ice will play their first game of the year against the Red Deer Rebels and while Pierce believes it will also be a good test, it’s hard to look beyond the Pats game for now.
“[Red Deer] is still searching a little bit for their identity too and they’ve had some real good outings and had some tough outings,” he said. “They’re a big group and play a physical game [and] I think of all the teams we’ve seen so far, they’ll be the closest to us in the size factor.
“We’re still at this point focused on one game at a time, and we’ll worry about Regina first.”
Puck-drop for round two of the Pats-Ice series is at 7 p.m. at Western Financial Place. The Ice enter the game with a 1-5-1-1 record and are still seeking their first home win.