In the final game of a long and challenging road trip, the Kootenay Ice appeared to be on the verge of, at least, a happy ending.
Up 3-0 over the Vancouver Giants midway through the second period on Saturday, the Ice looked primed to spoil the night for the Langley Events Centre crowd.
Then the sleeping Giants woke up.
Slowly crawling back, Vancouver had the game tied at three apiece by the end of the third period and then pulled off an overtime win.
Having lost the night before in a 10-3 blowout at the hands of the Victoria Royals, it was a frustrating finish to their week of games against all five BC Division teams.
“You hope you learn from all these experiences, [but] I’m not happy with how we played [and] I’m not happy with our point total on the trip,” said head coach James Patrick after the game in Vancouver. “Young guys make mistakes, [they] get emotional, [and they] get frustrated if they don’t get enough ice time and [then] start extending shifts.
“A lot of different things happened and we saw it all on this trip.”
On Friday night, in front of over 7,000 fans at Victoia’s Save-on-Foods Memorial Arena, Kootenay had their worst game of the trip. Playing in their third road ‘Teddy Bear Toss’ promotion, the Ice quickly got shelled with stuffed toys.
Opening the scoring on a power play opportunity in the game’s first five minutes, Eric Florchuk got the Royals on the board as he capitalized off a juicy Bailey Brkin rebound.
A pair of similar goals followed as the Royals capitalized on yet another power play and then scored again two seconds after ‘killing’ another chance.
While the Ice had some solid pressure in the second period, ten minutes in, Tyler Soy buried another power play goal for Victoria, off a one-time pass from Matthew Philips.
Playing four-on-four several minutes later, Peyton Krebs got his team back into the game as he took a cross-ice pass from Bobby Russell and beat Griffen Outhouse. Unfortunately, the three-goal gap would not last long and Dino Kambeitz beat Brkin five-hole less than a minute later and ended his night.
Although backup goalie Duncan McGovern held the fort for the rest of the period, the game quickly descended into a blowout following the final intermission. Scoring just 49 seconds into the third, the Royals beat Kootenay five more times to make it to double digits.
Although Brett Davis also scored for the first time in eight games and 16-year-old Cole Muir had his first career WHL goal, it wasn’t enough to salvage any positive feelings for the Cranbrook club.
“Our penalty killing was pretty bad, [but] I thought in the second period, we created a lot of chances,” Patrick said following the game. “Their goalie came up with some big saves and then we [came] unravelled.
“The third period was just really disappointing and everybody had a hand in [that].”
Taking a ferry back over to the mainland on Saturday, the team came into Langley with a lot to prove against the Giants. Catching their opponent with bus legs, following a trip from Portland on Friday in which Vancouver shutout the Winterhawks 1-0, they had a great road first period.
Starting McGovern, the team was solid all around to open the game and grabbed an early lead.
Sebastian Streu opened up the floodgates at the ten minute mark, finding open space in front of the net to receive a Krebs’ pass and break David Tendeck’s shutout streak. Only a minute later, Kaeden Taphorn took advantage of a Giants’ defensive zone turnover and backhanded in another Ice goal.
Kootenay tripled their tally at the 6:50 mark of the second, with Cameron Hausinger punching home a bobbled puck delivered by Streu off the rush.
The cracks in the team’s game, however, were already starting to show. Near the nine minute mark, Vancouver was tagged with two quick boarding penalties, but the Ice couldn’t score while 5-on-3.
By the latter half of the period, the Giants began to exploit a tired defence corps and Edmonton Oilers prospect Tyler Benson free-wheeled down the left-hand side and beat McGovern high-glove to start a comeback.
Once again experiencing the wrath of a poor third period, the Ice forced their goalie to stand on his head and were eventually beat twice. Brad Morrison had the first tally, cashing in after finding himself alone in front, and Ty Ronning grabbed the tying goal with less than five minutes left in regulation with a perfect wrister from the circle through traffic.
Holding on to get to overtime, the two teams played fast-paced, end-to-end 3-on-3 for over four and half minutes, until a major mistake cost the Ice the win.
Timing out a change poorly, the referee caught Kootenay with four men on the Ice and opened the door for Ronning to get a huge power play game winning goal. Knocking in a rebound from Benson’s shot, the diminutive New York Rangers prospect crushed the Ice and completed the unlikely win.
According to Patrick, it was a baffling ending.
“The penalty we took in overtime is almost mindboggling,” he said. “To step on the ice when your man is still on the other side on the rink, I can’t explain that one.”
Overall, while he did not dispute the team’s effort, it was hard not to be frustrated with their steady deterioration, especially when penalties were once again a big stumbling block.
“I really was happy, for the most part [and] I thought we did a lot of things the proper way […] we stuck to our game plan,” he said. “But, we were the first to crack. [We’re] a young team who is not familiar with holding onto the lead.
“We really started backing in a lot. That gave them more zone time [where] they were controlling the shifts.”
While the Ice went 5-for-6 on the penalty kill in Vancouver, an improvement over their 1-for-4 performance in Victoria, lack of discipline continued to harm their cause.
“[The WHL] is a top league with very skilled players and normally if you give the other team a man advantage, they’re going to capitalize and that’s pretty much what happened,” Streu said on Saturday. “We’ve just got to move our feet more [and] on the back check we have to keep our sticks down and finish our hits.
“You can’t start hooking the guy or tripping the guy. You’ve just got to move your feet and keep up with the pace.”
Patrick agreed, adding that most of the calls against them have been avoidable situations.
“The more I talk about it, the more we take penalties. When I don’t mention it, we seem to be okay,” he said. “I can see penalties when you’re tired or exhausted and they’re getting scoring chances, but to start off the second period and take two penalties right off the bat and they’re both slashing penalties to the hands, it’s just selfish.”
While the coach hopes that the disappointing trip provided some learning lessons, he knows that a lot of practice will be necessary, especially when it comes to special teams.
“[We’ll work on special teams] every day all week, but we [already] spend a lot of time on it,” he said. “We got some pucks to the net on the 5-on-3. [We were] better than a couple of games ago when we were in Prince George, but it’s still not good enough.
“It’s frustrating… we don’t have high-end defensemen on the blue line, we don’t have anyone with a big shot, so we have talked more about just getting pucks in the paint and just throwing pucks at the net [and] we refused to [do that].”
Despite only picking up three of a possible ten points during the five game road trip, the Ice remain in third place in the Central Division with a 13-17-2-0 record.
Kootenay’s next game is at home against the Calgary Hitmen on Saturday afternoon, when they will host their own ‘Teddy Bear Toss’ night.