On the heels of an 11-1 loss to the Brandon Wheat Kings, head coach Luke Pierce said his team didn’t work and they needed to do that Friday in Regina.
Despite falling 7-5 to the Regina Pats (27-23-3-4), the Kootenay Ice did just that, battling to the bitter end, coming up just short.
“It was night and day,” Pierce said Sunday after returning from Saskatchewan. “It was like taking a peewee team Wednesday and then watching a real Western Hockey League team play on Friday.
“Considering the lineup we had, guys stepped up and filled in real well.”
Friday in Regina, the Ice went without forwards Jesse Zaharichuk (illness), Max Patterson (undisclosed), Austin Wellsby (upper body) and Dylan Stewart (upper body).
Ultimately, it was a pair of Pats dealing the heaviest damage, as defenceman Connor Hobbs registered three goals and an assist while centre Adam Brooks potted two tallies and four helpers.
Meanwhile, hometown boy Zak Zborosky put forth a strong effort for the Ice, registering two goals and an assist of his own.
“He played with a ton of energy,” Pierce said of Zborosky. “It was his first time this year playing in front of lots of family and friends. He just had some extra jump, but for the most part, he did what we talked about all game, which was just making sure we were getting above pucks defensively and he created some offense from that.
“He was real responsible throughout the game… But we can’t keep relying on those guys [Zborosky and Matt Alfaro]. It played into Saturday.”
Friday proved a back-and-forth affair from start to finish.
Hobbs gave his team its first two-goal lead of the game 4:19 into the third period, sending his hat-trick marker past younger brother and Ice goaltender Declan Hobbs for a 6-4 Regina advantage.
Ice captain Tanner Lishchynsky pulled his club back within one goal in the final minute of regulation before Pats forward Austin Wagner sealed the outcome with an empty-net marker as time wound down.
Also providing offense for the visitors were Shane Allan and Noah Philp.
At the end of the night, the younger Hobbs made 31 saves between the pipes for Kootenay, while Tyler Brown turned aside 26 of 31 shots to backstop the Pats.
Saturday in Swift Current, the Ice managed to stake out a 2-1 lead through 40 minutes of play before burning out in the third period as the Broncos (21-30-4-3) registered three unanswered goals to claim a 4-2 victory.
The game-winning goal came off the stick of Broncos forward Tyler Steenbergen on a play that appeared to be offside at the Kootenay blueline.
The offside play went undetected by officials as Steenbergen collected his 16th of the season to snap a 2-2 tie with 14:25 to go in regulation.
“The winning goal was a real tough one to take,” Pierce said. “It was pretty clearly offside, I think everyone in the arena saw it except the officials. In a 2-2 game that’s a real tough one to handle. But at the same time, the refs are going to make mistakes as we do. Unfortunately, we made too many of them in the third [period].”
Broncos forward Glenn Gawdin scored with 35 seconds remaining in regulation to give the home team all the insurance it needed.
The Broncos opened the scoring on a bizarre play.
Affiliate defenceman Dom Schmiemann sent a long dump-in attempt from centre ice off the glass just inside the Ice blue line. As goaltender Wyatt Hoflin vacated the cage to play the puck, it ricocheted off a stanchion and into the open net for Schmiemann’s first-career WHL goal.
Dallas Hines and Zak Zborosky combined to give the Ice a 2-1 lead through 40 minutes of play.
Hoflin was stellar once again, making 40 saves to give his team a shot Saturday evening.
At the other end, Broncos goaltender Taz Burman made 24 saves for the win.
Making their WHL debuts over the weekend were twin forwards Keenan and Kaeden Taphorn.
There was plenty to like from the 16-year-old prospects, who showed good instinct and drive in their first tastes of WHL hockey.
“There’s a lot to like. Both boys show some natural hockey sense that is beyond a lot of kids at their age,” Pierce said. “They did some things instinctively that we’ve been continuing to work on with our guys even to this point in the year. That’s really encouraging.
“They were smart and simple and kept the game basic, which is exactly what we need from our group. They skate well, they had a couple chances Saturday and I think they’ve got a real bright future.”
Both Taphorn boys skated Friday and Saturday, collecting no points over the weekend.
They have since been returned to the Yorkton AAA Maulers of the Saskatchewan Midget Hockey League to finish out the season.
The Kootenay Ice (10-44-5-0) return to Cranbrook to open a three-game home stand this week, beginning Wednesday (7 p.m.) when the Wheat Kings (37-17-2-2) visit Western Financial Place.
From there, the Ice welcome the Edmonton Oil Kings (25-27-6-1) for Pink the Rink Night Friday before closing the home stand against the Portland Winterhawks (31-25-3-0) Saturday evening.