Luke Pierce did not have to struggle to figure out what went wrong after Friday night’s game.
“We got outworked, it’s plain and simple,” the Kootenay Ice head coach said following his team’s 4-1 home loss to the Spokane Chiefs. “You could X and O the thing to death, but at the end of the day, they outcompeted us and we were chasing them for most of the night, and [if you do that] you’re not going to have a lot of success.”
The Ice’s performance was anything but textbook. They were outshot 50-25 by the Chiefs and gave up the game-winning goal while they were on a powerplay.
“[Spokane] is a team that shoots a lot of pucks [but] 50 is too many,” Pierce said. “I think the biggest issue for us is the second chances we gave up […] they were hungrier to get pucks back and they kept us hemmed in. The sequences, where you give up four or five shots on a [single] shift really hurt us.“
Although Kootenay was coming off an entire week without any games, they did not look rusty or sluggish in the opening period. In fact, Pierce was reasonably happy with the way they started.
The Ice had 10 shots in the first period and scored the game’s opening goal at the halfway mark of the frame. Sprung on a partial break by Vince Loschiavo, Zak Zborosky snapped a wrister past Jayden Sittler for his 28th of the year to send them into the first intermission with a lead.
“I didn’t mind our start [but] we started to get away from it a bit,” Pierce said. “I think you always lose your rhythm a little [after time off] but there’s no excuse for a lack of compete level. Every game now, you’re playing teams that are fighting for playoff spots and you see their sacrifice and commitment level and we have to find ways intrinsically to create that. “
In the second, the Ice’s game started to evaporate rapidly. In a period where Spokane outshot Kootenay 20-4, Kailer Yamamoto tipped in linemate Hudson Elynuik’s point shot to beat Payton Lee and tie the game.
While trading goals in the first two periods was an identical storyline to the Ice’s win against the Red Deer Rebels last week, history did not repeat itself at home.
“We didn’t have the same type of response [as in Red Deer],” Pierce said. “Early in the [third] period, our first three shifts weren’t good enough and we just couldn’t seem to find a way to put in four or five [solid] shifts in a row.”
Although the Ice got an early power play opportunity in the final frame, it was the Chiefs who took advantage of it.
After drawing a penalty on the side boards during the man advantage against them, the Chiefs took advantage of the delayed call and Elynuik took off on a breakaway.
Outwaiting Lee, he slid the puck in the back of the net and put his team in the lead. While it was an undeniably nice finish, Pierce was disappointed by his group’s effort on the play.
“We lost the battle on the wall, got out-worked and there’s no excuse for it,” he said. “ If you lose battles, you’re not going to win a lot of hockey games.”
Yamamoto put in his second of the game five minutes later off a cross-crease pass from Elynuik, who later sealed the game with an empty-netter.
Despite picking up yet another goal, Zborosky was not happy with his line’s performance, especially in contrast with the Chief’s top players.
“I’d say [we were] pretty average,” Zborosky said. “We came out hard, but I don’t think we played that well actually and our line didn’t do so well either, going minus. Their top line scored all [their] goals, so I’m not too happy about tonight, honestly.”
Although both teams went zero for four on their powerplay opportunities, Pierce said he thought that special teams had a big impact on the result.
“Our penalty kill was good [but] it was unfortunate that the guys that were providing our team with energy, ended up having to kill [so many] penalties the whole period, [that] they weren’t able to go out five on five and establish the momentum that we needed,” he said. “Payton Lee is obviously the best penalty killer [we] have and he was at his best and gave us a chance to win a game, [but] we just didn’t have enough up front.”
Fortunately for the Ice, they don’t have to wait long to get another shot at Spokane. The team is travelling across the border today for the second leg of a home-and-home.
The coach is expecting a much better effort on the road.
“The only thing that I’d like to see continue is the Patterson-Wellsby-Sidaway line,” he said. “I thought they were good, [but] everything else needs to get way better … we have to win some foot races, win some fifty-fifty pucks, get better at face-offs — I think overall, it’s putting some of the system stuff away and just making sure that we’re ready to compete.”
Puck drop in Spokane is at 8:05 p.m. tonight and backup Jakob Walter is expected to start in net for the Ice. The team will then return for their one and only game against the Vancouver Giants at 4 p.m. on Sunday at Western Financial Place.