The Kootenay Ice met up with the top team in the WHL on Wednesday night and suffered the expected result.
The Moose Jaw Warriors came into Cranbrook, built up a 2-0 lead in the first period, and then hung around long enough to end the night with a 5-2 victory. While the odds were stacked against them from the drop of the puck, the Ice were disappointed in their performance.
“They’re one of the best teams in Canada, [but] I still felt that we had breakdowns that gave them some easy goals,” said head coach James Patrick after the game. “We just got out-battled… I know the guys that are competing, [and] they’re trying. I have to do a better job of making them aware of different situations on the ice because I thought that [we] gave up too many scoring chances.”
With the loss, Kootenay dropped to a 25-37-3-0 record and dug an even bigger hole for the final available playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. With the Red Deer Rebels beating the Calgary Hitmen 3-2 that same night, the Ice are now six points out of the race.
According to Patrick, the loss ultimately came down to special teams. Moose Jaw had two power play goals in five attempts, and Kootenay had one in seven chances.
“We weren’t able to capitalize [and] we just didn’t get enough second chances,” the coach said. “I felt our execution wasn’t really sharp. Our passing wasn’t crisp. I thought we had some looks, and then the passes were a little bit off, so [we weren’t] able to capitalize there, or recover and get back to sticks in lanes, or bodies in lanes.”
The Ice picked up the first penalty of the night less than a minute and a half into the game, with Brett Davis getting tagged for slashing. The team stuck to their gameplan early, however, and successfully killed off the Warriors’ power play.
From there, the Ice engaged in a solid, but tentative first half of the period, until a former friend made them pay. Playing in Cranbrook for the first time since being traded in December, former Kootenay forward Vince Loschiavo opened the scoring near the midway mark of the opening frame.
Grabbing a loose puck in front of McGovern, Loschiavo sent it to the roof on a play that was assisted by Tristin Langan and fellow former Ice teammate Barrett Sheen.
While Kootenay fought back and picked up their first power play near the end of the period, with only four seconds before intermission, Brandon Schulhaus doubled Moose Jaw’s lead after burying a pretty passing play.
“The first fifteen minutes of the first period, I thought we were doing a lot of good things,” Patrick said. “They hit a couple of posts, but I liked how we were defending… It’s a killer giving up a goal, four seconds before the end of a period. That really stunk.”
In the second period, a delay of game call to Martin Bodak just 12 seconds in, further tilted the ice out Kootenay’s favour. Putting in his 60th goal of the season, the most in the WHL, Jayden Halbgewachs gave his team a sudden 3-0 lead.
Six minutes later, the Ice got a goal back. Driving home a huge slap shot from the point on a power play, Alec Baer got what looked like could be the first of many for Kootenay.
Piling up power plays against an unravelling Moose Jaw side, the Ice teased, but never quite broke through on three power play chances, including a four-minute long advantage after Kale Clague was given a slash and unsportsmanlike conduct on the same play.
“We didn’t get enough chances or looks [especially] when we had the four minute [power play],” Patrick said. “That could have gotten us right into the game, [but] we even had [a] twenty second [stretch] where we didn’t have a man on the ice, which is on me. Someone didn’t go for a guy who came off the ice.
“That was disappointing [and] frustrating.”
With a herculean task awaiting them in the third, the Ice had it turn into an impossible mission before they knew it.
Justin Almeida scored on a power play just 34 seconds into the final frame, assisted by Brett Howden and Brayden Burke. Clague soon added another one, a snapshot in the slot off a drop pass from Langan, that rocketed by McGovern.
While Cole Muir answered right back a minute later, with his first goal in 30 games, the offense ended early and the Ice skated away with their sixth-straight loss.
With only seven games remaining in the 2017-18 regular season and the team’s next game in Red Deer against the Rebels on Friday, Patrick admitted that it’s pretty much become do-or-die.
“We just have to take it one game at a time, [but] it’s close to [must-win time],” he said. “[Our] three [remaining] games [against Red Deer] are huge, but starting on Friday, it’s a playoff game for us.
“It either puts us right in striking distance, or it puts us [in] tough ground to catch up on, so, for me, it just comes down to sacrifice, [and] playing out of character, battles of wills and compete.”
The loss to Moose Jaw also represented the end of the two teams’ season series. The Warriors took it with three wins and one loss. The only Kootenay victory came back in October, a 2-1 home win in which Loschiavo scored the game’s opening goal for the Ice.
Puck drop for Friday’s game in Red Deer is at 7 p.m.