A third-period outburst Friday night gave the Kootenay Ice back-to-back wins for only the second time this season, as they claimed a 5-3 victory over the visiting Regina Pats.
At the time, the victory gave the Ice points in three consecutive games, a run that would end Saturday night as the Central Division-leading Lethbridge Hurricanes skated to a 7-1 triumph over the Ice.
“I know it sounds too simple — but effort from a lot of players, not just select individuals,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, on Friday in regards to the biggest difference in his club over this recent stretch. “Guys are understanding there’s different ways to contribute to hockey games.”
A four-goal outburst in the third period for the home team brought all those in attendance at Western Financial Place to their feet Friday night.
Ice forward Matt Alfaro tallied twice in the final 20 minutes of play, his second of the night standing as the eventual game-winner and goaltender Wyatt Hoflin was rock solid, making 45 saves to claim his sixth victory of the season.
“We came out flying [in the third period] and even when they scored, we had good responses and good shifts after goals,” Alfaro said Friday. “If you look at all our goals, they were pretty close to the net.”
On the blueline, Tanner Lishchynsky was both steady in his own end and dangerous in the offensive zone. The 20-year-old native of Prince George registered a plus-3 on the night, fuelled by a three-point effort that included his first goal of the season.
“It’s been a long time since I scored,” Lishchynsky said with a smile Friday. “I was happy to get that that one out of the way and help the team win. Any day you score is a good day, so I’m happy.
“We’re just getting a lot more confidence now. Everyone’s starting to work hard. We’ve figured out how to play the game the right way and everyone is coming together. We’re becoming more of a team. All it comes down to is we’re working better and working harder.”
The two teams battled to a 1-1 draw through 40 minutes of play before Alfaro kick-started the third-period press from the Ice.
“It was a neutral zone breakout that kind of broke down,” Alfaro said, recounting his first goal of the night. “Jesse [Zaharichuk] brought it back and gave a nice pass to Zak [Zborosky]. He made a beautiful chip over to me, so it was a good bounce.”
All that was left for the 19-year-old native of Calgary was the lift a backhand shot past Pats 16-year-old rookie goaltender Jordan Hollett and it was a 2-1 lead for the hosts.
Only 33 seconds elapsed before Lishchynsky got in on the action.
The veteran rearguard charged the net off the rush, redirecting an Austin Wellsby shot for a 3-1 advantage.
The visiting Pats responded quickly as Adam Brooks beat Hoflin with a one-timer only 49 seconds later. Brooks’ 22nd of the season sparked some nervous energy in the crowd.
This was a scene all too familiar to many Kootenay Ice faithful. Only eight days earlier, Ice fans watched as a 4-3 third period lead evaporated and the Red Deer Rebels stormed back for a 6-4 triumph late in regulation.
“The way we collapsed [against Red Deer], we were able to sit down and watch that whole seven minutes of hockey and dissect every single play on what not to do and how to manage things emotionally,” Pierce said. “In the past, you’re a house of cards. There’s a goal and it just blows the thing apart. Now we’re starting to put some foundation there where we can handle those things and sustain it.”
Evidently, the Kootenay Ice learned their lesson.
“The past couple games we’ve come up clutch with goals and we’ve found a way to stick around hockey games,” Hoflin said Friday. “Then we’re the team that gets the next one and the next one. In the past, we hung around but other teams were getting the next goal. Right now we’re the ones getting the next goal and that’s big for us.”
Alfaro pounced on a loose puck in the slot for his second of the night to restore the two-goal advantage with 12:35 to go, chasing Hollett in the process.
Still, the Pats weren’t done.
With Cale Fleury serving an interference minor, Colton Kroeker found the back of the net on the power play to once again bring the Pats within one.
With only two minutes remaining in regulation, Wellsby capped what was a quiet, but strong outing as he pounced on his own rebound, poking it past Pats affiliate goaltender Kurtis Chapman to round out the scoring.
By the final buzzer, Wellsby had collected three points, including two assists.
There were multi-point performances all around for the Ice, including Lishchynsky, Jesse Zaharichuk (two assists), Wellsby, Alfaro and Zak Zborosky (two assists).
The Ice were unable to build off Friday’s positive showing as they visited the Hurricanes, falling 7-1 Saturday night.
The hosts built a 2-0 lead through the opening 20 minutes as captain Tyler Wong and import Egor Babenko struck with back-to-back goals only 36 seconds apart.
Ice defenceman Cale Fleury got the visitors back in it midway through the second period, sending a long power-play point shot past Hurricanes goaltender Jayden Sittler, making it a 2-1 game.
The Hurricanes stormed late in the middle period, with Andrew Nielsen and Brayden Burke scoring before 40 minutes had come to close.
Burke added another in the third period, as did Babenko. Overage forward Justin Gutierrez piled on to round out the scoring.
Hoflin made 24 saves on 30 shots before getting the hook. Backup Declan Hobbs was good on four of five shots in relief.
At the other end, former Ice goaltender Sittler steered aside 31 shots.
Next up, the Ice (8-32-3-0) host the Saskatoon Blades (15-23-3-0) on 2-for-1 Tuesday (7 p.m.) at Western Financial Place.