After the opening 20 minutes on Saturday night, the Kootenay Ice went to the dressing room confused.
Despite outshooting the Lethbridge Hurricanes 12 to 11, the Ice were down 4-0. It was the second straight night Kootenay found themselves in that situation, being down 3-1 the night before in Red Deer.
In both games, they mounted comebacks only losing 6-4 to the Rebels on Friday and 5-3 to the Canes, but ultimately didn’t get anything to show for their efforts.
“Both [nights] were similar, in that you finish the first period and you scratch your head wondering why you’re down the way you are, but there are things we can do to prevent that,” said head coach Luke Pierce. “I[On Saturday], for the whole sixty minutes, I thought we did a good job [but] we need guys to be [a little sharper] at the beginning.”
Vince Loschiavo, who had four assists over the course of the two games, agreed and said that despite the lack of results, the team played the right way.
“All four lines were going and everybody was doing their job,” he said following Saturday’s game. “Even [on Friday] we got some contributions from other guys [which was] nice to see.”
Heading into the back-to-back games, the Ice were feeling confident. The team had made significant progress in the previous weekend’s homestand and had a full week’s worth of practice to sharpen up.
After 15 minutes in Red Deer, it seemed like it was all for not.
Rebels forward Austin Pratt jammed in a goal at the midway point in the period, beating Jakob Walter in a mad scramble in front of the net.
Moments later, teammate Cameron Hausinger grabbed a rebound on a rush and doubled the score.
A power play chance less than a minute later gave the Ice a perfect opportunity to get back in the game, but it was the Rebels who capitalized once again.
From the top of the circle, Evan Polei found a streaking Austin Glover in the slot who earned a shorthanded marker.
While the Ice salvaged the man advantage with a Cale Fleury one-timer slapshot delivered by Colton Kroeker, they went into the first intermission down 3-1.
Less than a minute into the second, Evan Polei picked up a Rebels power play goal with a perfect high shot from ten feet out.
After a slew of penalties for both teams, Kurtis Rutledge got the Ice back to within two goals with a minute left in the period with a long wrist shot from the blueline.
Building off of it, in the first half of the third, the Ice looked like they were on the verge of an incredible comeback. Fedor Rudakov was at the forefront of the rally, picking up a goal from his knees before laying his body on the line with a fearless shot-block.
Before they could get their hopes up though, Michael Spacek and Glover scored in quick succession to end the night. Although Colton Kroeker walked in and scored with 30 seconds left in the game, it would end 6-4.
On Saturday, it was very much the same story.
Just six and a half minutes in, Lethbridge captain Tyler Wong took a snapshot and beat Payton Lee high on the far side of the net.
Two minutes later, Tanner Nagel put in a rebound off of a Brennan Menell slapper and a minute after that, former Ice star Matt Alfaro stole a puck from Fleury in front of the net and put it to the roof.
To close out the period, Wong put in his second of the night on a power play with a shot from the top the circle and gave them a 4-0 lead that would last until the third period.
“Even though [we were down], we were playing well and we just had to believe that we could come back,” Loschiavo said on the early deficit. “We [had to] stay positive and that’s what we did and just came up short.”
The attempt was admirable and Troy Murray got the sullen fans on their feet in the opening five minutes of the third as he converted on a broken play with a goal from the slot.
Kroeker joined the party with a perfect tip of Loschiavo’s shot off the rush, and Fleury also walked in and fired a perfect shot on a casual wrister.
It wasn’t enough though, and the night ended quite anticlimactically with Max Patterson bobbling a puck with the Ice’s net empty in the last minute and giving Alfaro his second of the night.
Despite the lack of results, Pierce was happy with his team’s effort and performance level.
“I like the fact that we defended better [on Saturday],” the coach said. “We gave up less than 30 shots [and] that’s a big key for us. I [also] think we were more aggressive and tenacious.
“I think we did some good things offensively with generating options, our face-offs were outstanding tonight [and] there were a lot of aspects that were good. We’ve just got to make sure we [don’t give up] freebies.”
Pierce also was satisfied with the line juggling he did against Lethbridge. After connecting so well since the trade deadline, Kroeker, Loschiavo and Brett Davis were put on separate lines.
“The definition of insanity is to just keep doing the same thing over and expect a different result,” Pierce said on the change. “At times, it gets monotonous and guys have been struggling and haven’t been producing the way they were.
“[We just wanted] to change the mindset a little bit and reward some other guys, who have been playing well, with some more minutes.”
The team was also aided over the weekend with the return of sparkplug Barrett Sheen, who had been out with an injured hand for the past month.
Unfortunately, the team lost Austin Wellsby after a knee-on-knee collision against the Rebels, evening out their injury situation.
While Jake Elmer sat out during the weekend, he is expected to return for the team’s upcoming road trip, as is defenceman Nikita Radzivilyuk who hasn’t played since November.
“I think [getting Radzivilyuk back] is good for our group,” [Our defence] was looking a little bit tired. I thought they looked tired [Friday and Saturday], at times, they struggled.
“It’s been a long time since [Radzivilyuk] has played though, so we’ve got to be realistic about our expectations for him.”
Beginning on Wednesday in Edmonton, the Ice embark on a five game trip across Saskatchewan and Alberta. They play the Oil Kings, the Saskatoon Blades, the Prince Albert Raiders, the Moose Jaw Warriors, and the Medicine Hat Tigers before returning to Cranbrook for a game against the Rebels on Friday, March 10.
Loschiavo hopes the team can keep up what he’s seen as positive play over the last two weeks.
“Even though we didn’t get the results we wanted to this weekend, we’ve got to play just like we have been,” he said. “[We just have to] take away the goals that we give them and make them work [a little more] for their goals.”
With the losses, the Ice are now on a three-game winless streak and remain in last place in the WHL with 36 points, four back of Prince Albert.