They say a picture paints a thousand words, but Tuesday night at Western Financial Place the picture wasn’t pretty and there was only one word needed to describe what took place.
The Kootenay Ice carried a 3-1 lead into the third period before giving up five goals over the final 20 minutes of play, including four goals in a span of 2:34, to gift wrap a 6-3 victory for the Edmonton Oil Kings.
“This is the lowest I’ve felt all year,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, Tuesday evening. “After being really enthused about our efforts, we were really calm in between periods, talked about all the right things. To see that happen, it still hasn’t even really sunk in that that just happened.
“There is no explanation, there are no words, it’s inconceivable.”
Trailing 3-1 heading into the final period of regulation, the Oil Kings took advantage of an ill-timed cross-checking penalty by Kootenay Ice import Roman Dymacek and the snowball started rolling downhill.
Oil Kings captain Brandon Baddock banged home a power-play rebound 3:13 into the third period, making Dymacek and the Ice pay for what coach Pierce deemed a “selfish and stupid penalty.”
Still, the home team held a 3-2 lead and remained in control of its fate with a chance to stop the growing snowball.
Then over a span of 2:34 midway through the final period, what started as a little snowball somehow exploded into an absolute avalanche.
First, Oil Kings centre Lane Bauer capitalized on a horrific turnover inside the Ice blue line to tie the game 3-3 at 9:51.
Ice captain Tanner Lishchynsky was sent to the sin bin for tripping only 36 seconds later to make matters worse.
Only 36 seconds after Lishchynsky sat down, Tyler Robertson found iron and then twine to convert on the power play and give the Oil Kings a 4-3 lead.
Oh, we aren’t done just yet.
Back at even strength, it only took the Oil Kings another 1:10 to build a 5-3 advantage as defenceman Ben Carroll put his second of the season past Ice goaltender Declan Hobbs, who finished the night with 25 stops.
Finally, Oil Kings right winger Jesse Roach buried the Kootenay Ice and it came a mere 12 seconds after Carroll’s tally.
“Lost in it all with how bad we were, give that team over there some credit, too,” Pierce said of the Oil Kings. “They’re obviously playing for a reason and the points are extremely valuable to them. They fought like dogs in that third period and showed us what desperation looks like.”
There was plenty lost in the chaos of Tuesday’s inconceivable collapse by the Kootenay Ice, but what didn’t go undetected was a 19-save victory from Cranbrook native Payton Lee.
While not necessarily spectacular, the 19-year-old goaltender did what was required to backstop his club to a third consecutive win, claiming possession of the top wild-card position in the WHL’s Eastern Conference in the process.
“It feels nice, especially in front of the friends and family,” Lee said following Tuesday’s outing. “It’s nice when you can get a win in front of them.
“We said in the room between periods we had nothing to lose. We just went out there and tried to push and ended up winning. That’s always positive.”
While the final 20 minutes, and ultimately the two points, belonged to Lee and the Oil Kings, the Ice controlled the bulk of the play through the first two periods.
The ‘A-to-Z Line’ featuring centre Matt Alfaro with wingers Zak Zborosky and Jesse Zaharichuk was in fine form early on and arguably one of few bright spots for the home team by the time the buzzer mercifully sounded at the end of the night.
After Oil Kings right winger Colton Kehler scored the visitors a 1-0 lead in the first period, Alfaro executed admirable solo effort to win a puck battle inside his own blueline, beat two Oil Kings defencemen and go in alone on Lee to tie the game 1-1.
Still not impressed? Alfaro’s career-high 15th goal of the campaign came as he worked to kill off a 5-on-3 Edmonton Oil Kings man advantage.
In the second period, Alfaro’s linemates, Zborosky and Zaharichuk, worked their magic to put the home team in front.
Only 27 seconds into the middle period, Zaharichuk jumped on a rebound for a 2-1 advantage. Moments later, the slippery 5-foot-8 winger took a gorgeous pass from Zborosky on a 2-on-1, calmly chipping it past Lee for a 3-1 lead.
If the game had ended after 40 minutes, Pierce, his players and many of the 1,811 in attendance could have headed home happy.
“Our third period, we let it slip with some bad turnovers and some miscommunications,” Zaharichuk said. “We can’t let that happen. We’ve got to learn how to put games away when we have a lead going into the third.
“You don’t want to get down on one another. You try to stick together as a team even though you’re going through some tough times.”
Tuesday’s outcome marks the ninth consecutive loss for the Ice. Over the stretch, Kootenay has only managed to collect a single point courtesy a 7-6 overtime defeat at the hands of the Spokane Chiefs Jan. 22.
A nine-game losing skid might be considered unimaginable if not for the fact the Ice previously trudged through an unimaginable 16-game swamp from Nov. 25 through Jan. 2.
Making matters worse, next on slate for the Kootenay Ice are the top two teams in the WHL’s Central Division. The second-place Red Deer Rebels, who thumped Kootenay 8-2 this past Friday, visit Western Financial Place this coming Friday. After that, the division-leading Lethbridge Hurricanes come to town Saturday.
Notes: Other details lost in Tuesday’s WHL contest in Cranbrook include Ice RW Zak Zborosky registering his 100th career WHL point and Ice RW Vince Loschiavo playing his 100th career WHL game…
Daily Townsman Three Stars:1) #21 LW Taylor Robertson, Edmonton Oil Kings (1G, 1A);2) #13 C Brandon Baddock, Edmonton Oil Kings (1G);3) #11 RW Jesse Zaharichuk, Kootenay Ice (2G)