Heading into the season, the Kootenay Ice hadn’t beat the Calgary Hitmen in 16 straight games. They also hadn’t managed to pull off a three-game winning streak of any kind since the 2014-15 season.
On Wednesday night, those struggles felt a million miles away.
The Ice beat the Hitmen for a third consecutive game, finally getting over that persistent hurdle and also improved their head-to-head record against Calgary to 4-1 for the season.
In what was another gritty, close game between the famous rivals, the Cranbrook side gave their home crowd a night to remember by pulling off a 4-3 overtime victory. Star rookie Peyton Krebs had the goal in extra time, a desperation power play marker.
The outing was the team’s first action since their week-long holiday break and the third of a four-game midseason series between Kootenay and Calgary.
“It feels like a playoff series [and now] they’ve felt the bitter sting from these last two overtime wins,” said head coach James Patrick, after the game. “I’m sure they’ve been painful and they’ve been close games… [tonight was] a game that could [have] gone either way.”
According to Patrick, despite showing some rust from the Christmas holiday early in the night, his team did just enough to earn their two points.
“I didn’t really dislike the first period — we had no shots, but we did get pucks to the net,” he said. “The first period, we played about five-and-a-half minutes in their zone [and for] eight-and-a-half minutes, they were in our zone. That was not the way we talked about, but I thought the effort was good.
“There was some really good hustle and I thought it was Brett Davis’ best game of the year.”
Down 1-0 early, after Jakob Stukel beat Duncan McGovern five-hole with a solo effort from the slot, Davis played a big role in breathing life into his team.
On a power play chance at the midway mark of the first period, Krebs made a cross-ice pass to Davis who found Colton Veloso in front and tied the game by finding the open cage.
In the second period, Davis found Veloso again in front of the net on a short-handed two-on-one break that gave the Ice a brief lead.
Minutes later, Jake Kryski squared the game back up at two with a backhander that went through McGovern from the slot. Davis was once again there, however, to answer the bell.
Blasting a hard pass from the point, Davis gave Hausinger a tap-in and earned himself his third assist of the night.
Despite entering the final intermission with a lead, the third period was not Kootenay’s best hockey.
“I thought [Calgary] was the better team in the [that] period,” Patrick said. “They just started getting pucks by our [defence] and driving our [defence]. Our gap wasn’t good and we had a little fear in our game.
“We were just collapsing and trying to protect that one goal lead.”
Giving up 11 shots in the final 20 minutes and being lucky at a lack of execution from the Hitmen, the Ice held the fort until there were only three minutes left in the night when Orca Wiesblatt finally capitalized on a loose puck in the crease.
Kootenay was given a late gift heading into overtime as Andrew Fyten was tagged for high-sticking and handed the Ice a deadly four-on-three opportunity. Drawing up an umbrella-attack with a man in front of the net, they got their chances, and then finally just drove the puck in front while in the middle of a unit change.
“We had our kick at the can with our first unit and our second unit was getting ready to go out. We had two guys on from the new unit and two guys on from the old unit,” Patrick said. “[Jonathan Smart] just took it to the net and if you can outnumber them around the net, that’s sometimes your best play.”
Walking in, Smart lost the puck, but it went to Krebs who jammed it past Nick Schneider and sent the loud Cranbrook crowd into a monstrous ovation.
“I think the coach did a good job of drawing up the plan, [so] we knew what we were doing from the get-go,” Krebs said. “We just battled and got some shots on net and it happened to go my way and I put it in.
“It was a great play by Smarty getting it to the net and I tapped it in. It’s nice to get those goals after Christmas break.”
Despite the positive ending, Smart is one of several players that Patrick would like to see improve, as the team wraps up the four-game series in Calgary on Thursday.
“[Our defensemen] had their moments, good and bad [and] it’s been this way the whole series with Calgary,” he said. “I thought Sam Huston played really well the previous games, but I didn’t like his game tonight. I thought he had some fatigue tonight and his gap wasn’t very good.
“If you ask me, probably our steadiest defenseman was Ryan Pouliot. He’s played some really big minutes.”
Without top defenceman Martin Bodak, who is playing with Slovakia at the U-20 World Junior championships in Buffalo, New York, maintaining a solid blueline has been a struggle for the Ice.
“Our young guys aren’t giving us big enough minutes,” Patrick said. “They’re not playing good enough to earn more than seven or eight minutes to relieve the pressure off the four who are playing ahead of them and that’s probably the biggest issue with our defence right now. Guys are playing too much and they’re tired.
“There is a lot of fear in their game. I need them to keep it simple and skate, when you’ve got an opportunity to skate, play it on the glass when you don’t and try and gauge physically, to defend.”
With the win, the Ice improved their record to 16-17-2-0 and remain in second place in the Central Division. With 34 points they are now comfortably ahead of Calgary who have 26 after 34 games.
The Ice play at the Saddledome at 7 p.m. tonight, once again against the Calgary Hitmen.
ICE CHIPS: Martin Bodak, who is serving as the captain of Team Slovakia at the World Juniors, played against Canada last night and fell 6-0. Ice goalie Bailey Brkin was absent from the team’s game on Wednesday as he battled the flu. 15-year-old prospect Gage Alexander served as an emergency recall backup goalie for the Ice, making his WHL debut. The Ice completed two trades during the afternoon before the game, sending forward Jeff de Wit to the Victoria Royals for a 2019 sixth-round draft pick and acquiring 2000-born forward Bradley Ginnell from the Portland Winterhawks for a 2018 second-round draft pick and a 2019 third-round draft pick.