Colton Kroeker almost got to be a hero twice.
The Kootenay Ice’s leading scorer had a spectacular game-tying marker with just over a minute to go in regulation, but couldn’t capitalize on an shootout chance that would’ve sent his team to victory.
“I thought [we played well] and our third period was pretty good, but obviously it wasn’t the ending we wanted,” Kroeker said after the team’s 4-3 loss, which ended in the eighth round of a shootout. “It feels pretty bad, especially because we should’ve won that game — I thought we outplayed them.”
Kroeker ended the night with two goals and an assist, which added to an impressive streak of 8 points in his past six games.
The Ice however, picked up their fifth straight loss.
“We outshot them, we got more scoring opportunities, we were physical, we played with more energy,” Kroeker said. “I thought we were the better team.”
In front of a crowd of 1,924 — the most fans who have attended a game at Western Financial Place since the home opener — Kroeker kicked off the scoring just three and a half minutes into the night, finishing an impressive tic-tac-toe rush with linemates Vince Loschiavo and Brett Davis.
The Raiders didn’t get down though. On a four-on-four stint at the end of the opening frame, Cale Fleury turned over a puck on an attempted rush and Prince Albert capitalized on a two-on-one.
Curtis Miske fed Simon Stransky who beat Payton Lee at the side of the net and took the game into intermission tied up.
After only putting up 5 shots apiece in the first, both teams increased their offensive pressure and energy levels in the second.
While neither team potted any goals on a combined 18 shots, a fight between Ryan Pouliot and Calvin Leth, and four power plays set the stage for a big ending.
Loschiavo got the crowd on their feet early in the third, taking a pass from Kroeker just over a minute in, and beat Nicholas Sanders with a low shot.
Unfortunately, the Raiders came back with a quick pair of goals in the latter half of the period from Parker Kelly and Miske, putting the Ice on the ropes.
The top line then saved the day again.
With Lee on the bench and an extra attacker on the Ice, Vince Loschiavo found Kroeker from the wing who beat the defenceman guarding him to shovel it in.
“It didn’t feel like it was over,” Kroeker said of his late heroics. “We were playing [well] and had a lot of scoring opportunities. We just couldn’t put the puck in the back of the net for a little bit.”
While there were chances at both ends in overtime, it was the Ice who were given the biggest opportunity to end it with a power play for the last two minutes.
Despite a frenzied crowd and some good puck movement, the Ice’s man advantage failed to find good looks on net. Neither team scored on a power play during the game, with Prince Albert going 0/3 and Kootenay going 0/7.
“[On] the four-on-three at the end, you’ve got to have the fangs out,” said head coach Luke Pierce. “Cale [Fleury] hit one off the crossbar and we had our chances, but we just couldn’t finish.
“We had a lot of opportunities [on the power play] and didn’t capitalize on them, which is unfortunate [since] it’s been good lately.”
In the shootout, it was no one’s night. Although Brett Davis scored for the Ice in the second round and Leth beat Lee in the third, the eight-round affair was otherwise a struggle.
Kroeker had a chance as the last shooter in the third round, but had his shot robbed by Sanders’ glove.
Cole Fonstad eventually beat Lee, and Dallas Hines was unable to match him. It was a disappointing ending, but in general was a game that should serve the team well going forward.
“I thought it was a big improvement [in] our effort level and compete level,” Pierce said. “I thought for large portions of the game we were the better team, [but] you’re not going to win every game that you play well in.
“It was a positive step in the right direction [and] we’ve just got to keep going.”
After voicing his frustration with the players in between his top scoring line and his energy fourth line last week, Pierce was encouraged by the play from the middle of his roster.
“I thought Reid Morrison and Jake Elmer did some really good things offensively [and] they’ve got to start to find ways,” Pierce said. “We need some contributions from our back end too. We missed a lot of nets, especially in the second period.
“It’s unfortunate when you put in so much work, but you don’t reward yourself. You’ve got to find ways to score some ugly goals. All three of them were pretty nice goals. We’re not scoring a lot in that three-foot area around the crease.”
The Ice are back in action tomorrow afternoon against the Lethbridge Hurricanes. It will be the teams’ first match against one another since swapping forwards Matt Alfaro and Zak Zborosky for Kroeker and Davis.
“I think all four of those players are going to be excited,” Pierce said. “Our guys are certainly going to be amped up and ready to go.”
“It’ll be fun for both sides,” Hines agreed. “I mean, both teams are playing against guys that were there, so it’ll be fun, but it’s going to be just as hard as any other game.”
The Hurricanes are one of the hottest teams in the WHL, but should be extra-motivated to beat Kootenay after ending a 9-game winning streak with a 5-0 loss in Medicine Hat last night.
“It’s unfortunate, from our standpoint that they did lose, because they’re obviously going to be a little hungrier, Pierce said. “[But] either way, they’re travelling and we have to get a jump on them early on [and] be ready.
“They’ve got three lines that roll at you and come at you hard, and their defence is very mobile and active as well. There is no facet of their game that’s weak. We’re going to make sure we focus on our [game] being airtight.”
Puck drop is at 4 p.m. at Western Financial Place.