The last time the Calgary Hitmen visited Western Financial Place, it wasn’t a pretty sight.
Despite the returns of sniper Tim Bozon and blue-liner Rinat Valiev to the Kootenay Ice lineup, the visitors walked all over the hosts en route to a 9-2 victory.
“Last game, it was like 2-1 with eight minutes [to play] in the second [period],” said Kootenay Ice alternate captain Jaedon Descheneau Thursday afternoon prior to practice. “I don’t know what happened but, we’ll be fine. We’ve just got to play our game plan and do what we’ve been doing the last three games when we’ve been winning and things will turn out.”
In fact, the Ice trailed the Hitmen 2-1 up until the 15:38 mark of the second period. With less than five minutes to go in the period, Calgary forward Adam Tambellini scored, kick-starting a three-goal run for the Hitmen over the course of 1:53 and the visitors took a 5-1 advantage to the dressing room at the second intermission.
Hitmen forward Greg Chase led the onslaught with two goals and two assists the last time around, but he won’t be a factor after requesting a trade out of Calgary Nov. 6. Russian import Radel Fazleev chipped in with a goal and two assists.
The loss to the Hitmen marked the fourth in what eventually stretched to a seven-game skid for the Kootenay Ice. Since breaking the losing run with a 6-5 overtime win over the Lethbridge Hurricanes Nov. 1, the Ice have turned a corner, rattling off three consecutive victories as they try to claw their way back into the WHL’s competitive Central Division conversation.
Though the hole may have been deep, it isn’t insurmountable. While the Medicine Hat Tigers (14-3-1-0, 29 points) have a healthy lead on the rest of the competition in the Central Division, the Hitmen (10-8-0-2, 22 points), Edmonton Oil Kings (10-8-0-2, 22 points), Red Deer Rebels (9-8-2-1, 21 points) and Lethbridge Hurricanes (5-10-3-1, 14 points) are well within striking distance with 53 games remaining on the slate for the Ice.
“Every game is important right now,” said forward Luke Philp following last Saturday’s shootout victory over the Swift Current Broncos. “Our division is really tough this year, it usually is.”
Starting Friday against the Hitmen, the Ice play five consecutive games against Central Division opponents, a critical opportunity to get back into the mix.
“We have to shoot the puck and we have to score [by] getting rebounds,” Valiev said prior to practice Thursday afternoon. “We didn’t score on a lot of our chances last game [against Calgary]. Right now, we have a better team with a lot of guys back from injury and Sam [Reinhart] back. We’re all in.”
After hosting the Hitmen Friday night, the Ice travel across the Alberta border to take on the Lethbridge Hurricanes Saturday night before returning home for a Nov. 19 date with the Medicine Hat Tigers.
The Ice are expected to get centre Kyle O’Connor back into the lineup this weekend. The 6-foot-2 Calgary product missed both outings last weekend with a lower-body injury.
Still on the mend is right-winger Jon Martin, who is expected to miss another one to two weeks with an upper-body injury. Bruising defenceman Tanner Faith also remains out for the next two to four weeks with an upper-body injury.