The Kootenay Ice have not been able to solve Stuart Skinner yet this year.
After making 47 saves in a shutout performance in Cranbrook in late November, the Lethbridge Hurricanes goaltender stymied the Ice once again on Tuesday night, with 20 saves in a 7-0 game.
While Kootenay can take some solace in knowing that they aren’t the only ones who have had trouble with Skinner — the night marked his fourth shutout of the season and franchise record 10th of his career — the severity of the loss is huge.
Heading into the game, their second of a five-in-six-night situation, the Ice were on a seven-game streak of picking up at least one point, which included several players with major scoring streaks.
Cam Hausinger had a seven-game point streak snapped, while Brett Davis and Alec Baer didn’t get on the board for the first time in five games. In one swift motion, a lot of good vibes were wiped away.
As a team, Kootenay dropped back to a .500 winning percentage with a 18-18-3-0 record, still good enough for second in the Central Division, but are now only two points ahead of Lethbridge.
According to head coach James Patrick, the loss didn’t come down to Skinner or anything in particular about the ‘Canes play, but simply a lack of buy-in from his group.
“We lost battles all over the ice. On both ends, [Lethbridge] won every battle,” Patrick said. “We had one guy who protected the puck a little bit and held onto it, [then] looked to make plays, and that was Brett Davis. Outside of [him], everybody got knocked off the puck.”
Despite the confidence gained from a close overtime loss to the division-leading Medicine Hat Tigers, at home on Monday night, the Ice failed to build off their impressive third period at Western Financial Place in the Windy City.
Although the first period was slow for both teams, and the game stayed tied 0-0 until the last five seconds of the opening frame, the first blow against Kootenay was significant.
Playing with fire, by picking up one penalty — a slashing call against defenceman Ryan Pouliot — and then another — a tripping minor against fellow blueliner Jonathan Smart, the Ice quickly allowed a 5-on-3 against the WHL’s second best power play.
Efficiently passing the puck across the ice and forcing Duncan McGovern out of position, Jordy Bellerive, assisted by Giorgio Estephan and Lane Zablocki, finished off a play for the ‘Canes, making it 1 – 0.
The Ice managed to stop the bleeding early in the second period, by killing off the remainder of the power play time and getting a man advantage of their own, but couldn’t convert, barely testing Skinner.
During their second power play, near the midway mark of the game, Lethbridge converted again as Giorgio Estephan hammered in a hard shot from the top of the circle.
Another opportunity for an Ice comeback presented itself moments later, as they were given a power play, but the team took less than 40 seconds to even up the situation. Former Kootenay forward Jake Elmer drew the call against his old team, bursting towards the net while shorthanded and nearly scoring, as he was slashed by Smart.
“Special teams were a microcosm of the game,” Patrick said. “They blocked every shot, and we didn’t. They [also] came in hard on their power play [and] chipped in [pucks], won battles, got it up, got it over, shot… we didn’t [do that].
“That, in a nutshell, was what the entire game was made up of.”
The Hurricanes then had a goal from Calen Addison, disallowed due to goaltender interference on McGovern, before scoring the game’s first even-strength marker in the last minute of the middle period.
Drawing defenders into the far corner, Russian-import player Egor Zudilov made a perfect pass to Jadon Joseph, who was alone in front of the net and buried his chance to make it a 3-0 game.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Kootenay defenceman Sam Huston, on the team’s collapse after the first period. “Whether it was mental, physical, or we were tired, the game just slipped away from us and turned into a tough one.
“[The Hurricanes] have a really potent power play and we were not disciplined enough.”
In the final 20 minutes, the game really spiralled out of control. Three minutes in, Igor Merezhko drilled in a point shot that was tipped right in front of McGovern by Bellerive, for his second of the night.
A pair of goals followed in the next two minutes, with a rebound stuffed in by Taylor Ross and a goal by Zachary Cox, which was the first of his career. Capping off the night five minutes later, Lane Zablocki beat McGovern to give them seven good goals on 41 shots.
Although Kootenay threw everything they could at Skinner in the final minutes of the game, including earning a surefire 3-on-1 rush, the Edmonton Oilers’ draft pick stood tall to keep their scoreboard blank.
“It’s a game that [we] might need to throw in the garbage,” Patrick said. “We got out-battled, outworked [and] out-hustled.”
The Ice are back in action again tonight in Swift Current, taking on the Broncos. At 26-10-2-0, they are the second best team in the WHL, but are on a three-game losing streak with two of the league’s top scorers — Aleksi Heponiemi and Tyler Steenbergen — away from the organization at the U-20 World Juniors tournament in Buffalo, New York.
Puck drop is at 6 p.m MST at the Credit Union iPlex.
ICE CHIPS: Kootenay Ice affiliate player Holden Kodak made his WHL debut on Tuesday night. The 16-year-old Cloverdale, BC native, who is currently spending the season with Yale Academy of the CSSHL, was a -2 while playing on the team’s fourth line.
1st Period-1, Lethbridge, Bellerive 21 (Estephan, Zablocki), 19:55 (PP). Penalties-Pouliot Ktn (slashing), 18:38; Smart Ktn (tripping), 18:50.
2nd Period-2, Lethbridge, Estephan 17 (Addison, Cozens), 8:43 (PP). 3, Lethbridge, Joseph 4 (Zudilov, Nagel), 19:08. Penalties-Pouteau Let (interference), 3:21; Schaufler Ktn (hooking), 7:42; Zudilov Let (slashing), 9:05; Smart Ktn (slashing), 9:47.
3rd Period-4, Lethbridge, Bellerive 22 (Merezhko, Estephan), 3:43. 5, Lethbridge, Ross 10 (Pouteau, Elmer), 4:36. 6, Lethbridge, Cox 1 (Joseph, Addison), 5:42. 7, Lethbridge, Zablocki 11 (Merezhko, Estephan), 10:50. Penalties-Schaufler Ktn (roughing), 5:55; Cozens Let (roughing), 5:55; Bellerive Let (inter. on goaltender), 7:14; Nagel Let (inter. on goaltender), 12:41.
Shots on Goal-Kootenay 7-7-6-20. Lethbridge 7-15-19-41.
Power Play Opportunities-Kootenay 0 / 4; Lethbridge 2 / 4.
Goalies-Kootenay, McGovern 7-4-1-0 (41 shots-34 saves). Lethbridge, Skinner 14-13-2-0 (20 shots-20 saves).