Red Deer Rebels forward Austin Pratt stands in front of Kootenay Ice goalie Payton Lee on March 10

Red Deer Rebels forward Austin Pratt stands in front of Kootenay Ice goalie Payton Lee on March 10

Kootenay Ice fall 4-1 to Red Deer Rebels

Team gives up four unanswered goals in second period marring otherwise solid home performance.

The Kootenay Ice aren’t concerned about a lack of motivation as the season winds down.

With their own playoff hopes dashed, the team is relishing the chance to be spoilers against desperate teams. For the first 20 minutes on Friday night, it looked like the Red Deer Rebels might be their first victim.

Although Red Deer ended up beating the Ice 4-1 at Western Financial Place and held onto third place in the Central Division, Kootenay came out of the gate with a focus and hustle that would make any team nervous

“The first period is exactly what we wanted to bring, with some urgency early on,” said head coach Luke Pierce. “We certainly had our chances [and] I liked the way we were playing.”

The Ice piled up 12 shots in the first period and limited the Rebels to only five. They also took advantage of the game’s first power play with Vince Loschiavo redirecting a hard pass from Max Patterson near the nine minute mark.

The goal was Loschiavo’s 27th of the season, a pace that has him alone at the top of the team’s goal scoring charts with a cushion of 10 markers.

“We came out flying in the first,” Loschiavo said of the team’s early play. “We took it to them and outnumbered them in shots and came out with a 1 – 0 lead, but we have to know that they are going to come out hard in the second and they did and they took it to us. They were more physical with us and we’ve got to be ready for that.”

Despite Kootenay having one of their best opening period efforts of the year, the Rebels matched the Ice’s game and then some in the middle frame.

Scoring early and often, the Rebels piled up four goals in the period with Evan Polei grabbing his 30th, Michael Spacek putting up his 28th and Brandon Hagel notching his 23rd and 24th tallies.

According to Pierce, the second period lapses were another learning experience for the young team.

“We need to find some players that are a little harder to play against,” he said. “Our offense has been fairly consistent, [but] we need some people who are really difficult to play against and unfortunately, right now those guys are three 16 year olds.

[Michael King and Keenan and Kaeden Taphorn] are not exactly physically dominating. They’re relentless and they play hard, but it’s pretty tough for them to match up against men like [Evan] Polei, [Michael] Spacek and those kids. We just need some [other] guys to be a little harder to play.”

To add insult to injury, or maybe the other way around, at the end of the second period, Keenan Taphorn was the victim of a charge from Rebel forward Jordan Roy which sent him to the locker room.

Defenceman Sam Huston stepped in to fight Roy but was tagged with an unsportsmanlike penalty, a call that Pierce was visibly furious with.

“They’re calling it by the rulebook [with] this new rule that you don’t have to call an instigator,” Pierce said. “If a guy goes over to engage in a fight after a hit or something like that, they call it unsportsmanlike.

To me, I think you’ve got to use your judgement on that [though]. [Roy] looked pretty willing to fight there. I don’t think that Sam had the full intention of fighting, but good on him for standing up for a teammate.”

Pierce further explained that his frustration was largely due to the initial hit.

“I didn’t like [it], I [thought it was] was high,” he said. “It just doesn’t feel right that you come out of it without a power play, but I understand. They call the rules by the way the book is and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

As a result of the play both Huston and Taphorn received injuries that will keep them out of Saturday’s rematch against the Rebels. Alternate captain Kurtis Rutledge, is also questionable after missing the game.

“[Rutledge] seems to have gotten [a flu] bug,” Pierce said. “We’ve had a few guys who are missing time, and have been sick in the last few weeks […] we’ll see how he is tomorrow morning but] we’ll [definitely] be without [Huston and Taphorn].”

In the third period, the Ice had renewed focus but were unable to beat Rebels’ netminder Lasse Petersen who played sensationally all night and finished the game with 32 saves on 33 shots.

For his part, Payton Lee was sharp in the Ice’s crease making 30 stops. Although he was burned on a wraparound by Spacek on the Rebels’ third goal, Pierce isn’t concerned about the veteran keeper’s style.

“[Lee’s] an active goaltender and part of what makes him really good is how aggressively he plays the game,” he said. “[Spacek’s goal] was an unfortunate circumstance. Our defenceman fell on [Lee] and our other defenceman didn’t get back from the half wall and [got] beat.

“We needed more effort there. We needed a better effort on the fourth one [too], on their power play goal. It was unacceptable the way that we killed that. We’ve got to understand that we can’t give [Red Deer] any space.”

Pierce said he plans to start Lee on Saturday, explaining that the 20-year-old has earned it.

“He’s starting to wind down his career and he deserves the opportunities to play,” the coach said. “We’ll try and find Jake [Walter] another start next week [but] right now, we want to maximize [Lee’s time] while we have him.”

The Ice face the Rebels less than 24 hours after the loss with a rematch in Red Deer. Pierce doesn’t see either team gaining a significant edge from the quick turnaround and believes his team should have a good chance of being competitive again.

“They’ve got to travel back tonight and we get to sleep in our own beds and then travel tomorrow. My preference would be to start on the road and then go home and play, but either way, we’ve got to play the game. I like our headspace right now and I hope that we bring another good effort tomorrow.”

Following Saturday’s game at the ENMAX Centrium, the Ice will have four games remaining on the season with their penultimate Cranbrook game of the year happening against the Edmonton Oil Kings on Tuesday night.

After 67 games, Kootenay remains in last place in the WHL with 39 points, five fewer than the second-to-last Vancouver Giants. Red Deer was 66 points in 67 games, four points ahead of the Calgary Hitmen for third place in the division.

According to captain Cale Fleury, however, they’ll be trying to imagine alternative standings.

“We just need to play as if we were playing for a playoff spot even though we’re not,” Fleury said. “We [have to love] playing spoiler and take some pride in not letting teams get in the playoffs.”