Kootenay Ice defenceman Jonathan Smart prepares to give Lethbridge Hurricanes goalie Stuart Skinner one of his 47 saves on Saturday night. (Brad McLeod Photo)

Kootenay Ice defenceman Jonathan Smart prepares to give Lethbridge Hurricanes goalie Stuart Skinner one of his 47 saves on Saturday night. (Brad McLeod Photo)

Kootenay Ice blanked at home by Lethbridge Hurricanes

Cranbrook club outshoots divisional rival in first meeting of the season, run into hot goaltender

All night, it seemed like it was only going to be a matter of time until the Kootenay Ice found the back of the net.

Stuart Skinner had other ideas.

In a performance that would’ve silenced even Superintendent Chalmers, Skinner made 47 saves in a 3-0 win for the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

“I haven’t really seen a goalie stand on his head as much as he did tonight and I’ve played three years in this league,” said Kootenay defenceman Jonathan Smart after the game. “It was incredible on his end and you’ve got to give him respect for it.”

After barely beating the Edmonton Oil Kings 4-3 on Friday night, the Ice returned home with a lot of energy left in the tank for their first crack at the ‘Canes.

As a divisional rival, the Ice will play Lethbridge seven times this season and they made sure to set a solid tone in the first period.

Piling up 18 shots, Kootenay was by far the better team, but just couldn’t find a way past Skinner who was a brick wall from the drop of the puck.

All four lines got in on the team’s early pressure with a partial breakaway by Peyton Krebs being just one of numerous golden opportunities.

“That might have been the best first period we’ve played all year,” said head coach James Patrick. “ I thought our players executed [the game plan] really well, for the most part, and we spread the zone… we got looks and their goalie came up with big saves.”

In the second period, Kootenay continued to compete hard but had a lacklustre five-minute stretch that cost them.

Ryan Vandervlis opened the night’s scoring at the seven-minute mark as he took a shot that deflected off Ice goalie Duncan McGovern’s stick and into the top corner of the net.

On a power play a few minutes later, Jordy Bellerive knocked in his 13th of the season with a shot that went off the post and in.

Former Ice player Jake Elmer then twisted the knife as he capitalized on an odd-man rush with Josh Tarzwell, less than a minute later.

“[After] they got that one, we kind of gave up [for a few minutes],” Smart said. “In the game of hockey, there’s a lot of ups and downs and we’ve got to be able to control those downs and really make sure we don’t get in the hole because of them.

“Other than that five-minute span [though], we tested them a lot and it’s too bad we couldn’t get one by them.”

Although the Cranbrook boys got back to their game to end the period and came out with renewed energy in the final frame, it became increasingly obvious that it was just Skinner’s night.

Even with four power plays in the third period alone, the Ice couldn’t find any way to solve the Edmonton Oilers prospect as he continued to make a number of highlight-reel stops.

“I think [Skinner] was outstanding, [but] we still did nowhere near a good enough job of taking his eyes away and keeping him deeper in the paint,” Patrick said. “I think there were times that we drew a few penalties trying to fight to get in front of him, but we refused to do it on the power play.

“We didn’t do a good enough job in that area.”

While Elmer almost gave his old team a break a few times, by earning three minor penalties on his own — including one for embellishment — he managed to have the last laugh along with his Lethbridge teammates.

With Skinner named the game’s first star and game-winning goal scorer Ryan Vandervlis getting second star honours, Smart was selected as the game’s third star after finishing the night with 6 shots in the loss.

The recently acquired blueliner thought that his team could have easily won the game if it hadn’t been for their opponent’s goaltending.

“I think our puck possession [was good] and our forwards were flying and putting a lot of pressure on their defencemen,” Smart said. “We were creating a lot of turnovers and because of it, we were able to get pucks low to high and play our style of offense.

“We’re just going to [have to] keep working.”

Patrick agreed and said that he thought that his team had more quality scoring chances than the Hurricanes.

“As coaches, the biggest thing you track is scoring chances, but when a goaltender is playing that well, and you get that many shots in the first period, you know you have to adjust,” he explained. “Cam Hausinger will do anything to get in front, but I just don’t think enough guys were willing to do that. We need more of our skilled guys, the guys on the top two lines, the guys who were getting the chances, [to do that].”

While Patrick did not question anyone’s work ethic, he is definitely planning to focus on the team’s power play in practice and may continue to adjust some lines.

“For us to move forward and be successful, we’re getting in that desperation mode with where we’re at [on the power play],” he said, after going 0-6 for the night. “I don’t want us to be doing the same thing, the same thing, the same thing and not be successful, so we’re going to have to try something different.”

The Ice have the second worst power play in the WHL with a 13.5% conversion rate after 111 chances so far this season.

Also, after having Peyton Krebs on the top line with Colton Kroeker and Alec Baer for the past two games, Patrick also said that he is considering another reshuffle.

“At times they’ve been very good, [but then there has also been times with] too much circling and no one going to the net,” he said of the combination of his top three point-producers. “There was one shift in the neutral zone that just drove me crazy. [One of them] went up behind the puck and then the second player came back to go behind the puck [and] it looked like the Russian National team in the 1970s, [which] doesn’t work anymore.

“They got some good looks and they made some good plays, but sometimes I felt that in both games, they were starting to get a little too fancy, instead of just taking the play that was there.”

The shutout defeat was the Ice’s first time being blanked at Western Financial Place since February 10, 2016.

Despite the loss, the Ice remain in second place in the Central Division with a 11-14-1-0 record, but the ‘Canes jumped on their heels by moving up to 10-12-1-0.

The Ice’s next game is at home against the Prince Albert Raiders on Wednesday night. It will be their last action in Cranbrook before departing on a nearly two-week long road trip across B.C.

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