In under 20 seconds, fans at Western Financial Place went from preparing themselves for overtime, to getting an early jump on exiting the building.
A tie game with less than five minutes left, the Kootenay Ice (24-30-3-0) fell hard to the Lethbridge Hurricanes (26-23-6-0) on Monday, giving up two quick goals and then an empty-netter in a heartbreaking finish.
In front of 2,969 fans for a matinee on B.C.’s ‘Family Day’, the Ice lost 5-2 in a game that easily could have gone the distance.
“For the most part, we played okay,” said forward Alec Baer after the game. “It was a chess match and we cracked first.”
According to head coach James Patrick, despite a lot of positives, the mistakes that cost the team late were hard to swallow.
“[We had] a huge breakdown, [which is] devastating when you’re that close to getting a point,” Patrick said. “[There was a] lack of compete [and] fly-bys by veteran players — the guys who need to come through.
“It was extremely disappointing.”
With both teams having travelled from Saskatchewan the previous day, and having to play at 2 p.m. in the afternoon, the game suffered from a slow start.
The Hurricanes had 10 shots and the Ice had six, but neither side managed many significant chances in a scoreless first period.
After trading power plays throughout the second, Kootenay almost opened the game’s scoring on a three-on-one rush. While Streu fed Kohler the puck for a one-timer at the side of the net, the Swiss forward was stoned by Logan Flodell’s pad.
Moments later, the play headed the other way and Koletrane Wilson put Lethbridge in the lead with a shot from the point that beat Duncan McGovern.
The Ice soon caught a break, however, as Cam Hausinger was hit with a high-stick from Dylan Cozens that set his team up with a four-minute power play. On the ensuing man advantage, Alec Baer tapped in a backdoor play set up by Brett Davis to even up the game.
To start the third period, Kootenay scored another power play goal, this time from Colton Veloso who finished off a mad scramble in front of the net.
The Ice held onto the lead for just over six minutes, until the ‘Canes found a way to beat McGovern again, this time off a redirection of Calen Addison’s shot by Brad Morrison.
Morrison then instigated the abrupt finish to the game as he fired a wrister into the top corner of the net, after being left alone in the slot.
“We did flybys where we could have got the puck down to the red line, got it into their zone [and instead] skated on the wrong side of their man and let them come back into our zone,” Patrick said of the circumstances that led to the game winning goal. “And then, one player should have just stopped with [Morrison], while another skated [right] by him.”
Seconds later, former Ice forward Jake Elmer put in an insurance marker, and then Jordy Bellerive found the Ice’s empty net, with three minutes still remaining in the game.
With the regulation loss to a divisional opponent, the Ice’s gap with the ‘Canes for second in the Central increased to seven points. The Red Deer Rebels, meanwhile, are nipping even closer at their heels, and thanks to a Monday night win are now only two points behind Kootenay.
If the Ice drop below third in the division, they lose their playoff spot.
“Games like this, you’ve got to, at least, bring it to overtime and get a point,” Baer said. “Red Deer has picked up their game. They’re a good team and they’re right on [us], so every point counts.”
According to Patrick, the team needs to learn how to close out tight games if they want to extend their season.
“If we want to make the playoffs, we can’t have those types of breakdowns,” he said. “You have to be playing the game the right way. [If there’s] too much swinging, too much cheating, that’s what ends up happening; the puck ends up in your net.
“Come back and stop in your position in the defensive zone, stop in the defensive side of your man or the puck, [and] win some battles, especially in crucial times.”
While the team’s special teams were a bright spot, going 5-for-5 on the penalty kill and scoring twice on five power plays, Patrick wasn’t happy with the amount of penalties his team took.
“You can’t argue with a tripping penalty and slashing a guy’s stick,” the coach said. “[We] were either undisciplined or [had a] lack of focus, [and] I was disappointed with that.”
Having now only won one of their past eight games, the Ice will be fighting for their lives in the remaining 15 matches of the year. Although Patrick said that the players have discussed treating the conclusion of the regular season as if it were the postseason, he is only concerned that they stick to the game plan.
“For me, it’s about playing the game the right way,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to, how we’re going to react to playing our system, and what adjustments we have to make against the team we’re playing, all in a setting where you’re competing as hard as you can.”
The Ice’s next two games are at home, with a game against the Saskatoon Blades on Wednesday, and a date with the Tri City Americans on Friday.