The King’s ransom was paid in full at Western Financial Place on Saturday night and it came in the sum of a few hundred teddy bears.
Michael King opened the scoring in the grudge match between the Kootenay Ice and the Calgary Hitmen at the eight and three quarter mark of the first period, sending a flurry of stuffed animals, toques and mittens to the ice surface.
The annual holiday tradition, which benefits local charities and organizations, encourages fans to throw teddies and winter wear on the ice after the home team’s first goal. As a 17-year-old sophomore with only six prior WHL goals to his name, setting off the bear-blizzard was a huge honour for King.
“It was awesome, especially to get it early,” the Winnipeg-born forward said. “It was good to see all the teddy bears come down [and] it got the boys rolling.”
The goal, which was the climax of an energetic start for Kootenay, was the result of a rebound from a Jonathan Smart point shot that King corralled from a tight angle and beat Nick Schneider. It opened the floodgates for the Ice.
After a surprisingly quick and business-like cleanup, three minutes later in the game, Loeden Schaufler made a pass that deflected off a Hitmen defenceman and found Cam Hausinger alone in front.
A few minutes later on a power play, Dallas Hines ripped a slap shot to give the team a 3-0 lead heading into the break. The goal was assisted by Peyton Krebs and Colton Veloso
Krebs and Veloso continued to play at a high level in the second period and both assisted a goal by linemate Sebastian Streu near the midway point. Taking a nifty through-the-legs pass from Veloso for a two-on-one with Streu, Krebs made a picture perfect net front saucer pass to extend the lead.
Less than 40 seconds later, Krebs scored as he stopped up at the slot while Veloso drove with speed and ripped his feed top corner, ending Schneider’s night.
Replaced by 18-year-old Matthew Armitage, the Hitmen chose the 5-0 deficit as a good time to get themselves back in the game. Although Duncan McGovern was solid in the Ice crease the entire night, a power play opportunity for Calgary at the end of the second frame broke him.
Throwing a light shot from the point, Jake Kryski caused a rebound that was stuffed in by Mark Kastelic to give the Hitmen a still-not-really-too respectable 5-1 scoreline, heading into the final intermission.
In the third, the Ice suffered from some poor discipline and were out-hit by a physical Calgary group, but managed to hold on to their four goal lead to tie their biggest victory margin of the season.
“Obviously, I liked the first period, but after that I felt we were out-chanced,” said head coach James Patrick after the game. “ I know for young guys, it’s hard for them to play with a 5-0 lead, because everyone wants to get their points and everyone starts cheating on the offensive side.
“We were fortunate that we got a jump on them. They had their ‘bus legs’ [and] I thought that was a big key to the game. We can’t play the way we played the last two periods. We won’t be successful moving forward playing that way.”
Playing their first of four-straight against the Hitmen, with home-and-home series’ before and after the Christmas break, Patrick believes that his team has to be much better in their afternoon game at the Saddledome tomorrow.
“[The Hitmen] are going to be way better tomorrow [and] we knew even after the first period that they were going to be a lot better,” he said. “I’m sure they heard about it from their coaches. I just thought they won so many more battles and kept the pucks in our zone.
“They were probably the more physical team. Once they got down 5-0, they played like they were pissed off and iif that carries over tomorrow, we’ve got to have some attitude.”
With a focus on physical engagement and winning puck battles set by their coach, the Ice are heading into their follow-up game with some confidence after the big win at home.
“We wanted to come out hard and set the tone right away [against the Hitmen],” said Veloso, who had three assists in the game. “We just kept things simple, we played our game, and that led to the score at the end.
“We’ve just got to enjoy this win for a little bit and then forget about it, refocus and come ready to play tomorrow, just like we did tonight.”
While the game was missing some firepower due to the absence of World Junior camp participants Gilian Kohler (Kootenay/Switzerland), Martin Bodak (Kootenay/Slovakia), Jake Bean (Calgary/Canada) and Vladislav Yeryomenko (Calgary/Belarus), according to Veloso it wasn’t a heavy weight on their minds.
“We didn’t think much of it, we just went out there and we stuck to our system,” he said of facing off against a team missing their top two defenceman and scorers. “We just tried to keep it simple.”
As for missing Kohler and Bodak, as well as the recently traded Vince Loschiavo, it was more of a challenge than an burden.
“That’s one thing that James talked about [before the game]. He said, with guys leaving, we’ve got younger guys that can step up and fill that role,” Veloso explained. “I think they were pretty excited to do that and today, it showed.”
Joining Veloso, with a three-point night, was Krebs who shot up to become the team’s top point producer with 28 in 28 games, one more than captain Colton Kroeker. The rookie has points in four straight games and leads all 16-year-old WHL players in scoring.
Tomorrow’s game in Calgary starts at 2 p.m. and will be the team’s final game before a weeklong break. Both teams will then meet again on December 27 at Western Financial Place, and December 28 at the Saddledome.