For the Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos, there was a lot to be thankful for this holiday weekend.
The two Saskatchewan teams kept their early success rolling while they feasted on the visiting Kootenay Ice, with the Cranbrook club falling 5-2 in back-to-back games.
On Friday, it was Moose Jaw who got the best of the Ice with five different goal scorers cashing in for the team’s fifth straight win to start the season. Swift Current’s top line then dominated the Kootenay group the next night and kept the Broncos at a perfect 6-0 record.
“[Both nights] I thought we were good in spurts, but [in] the end, [we gave up] way too many chances,” said Ice head coach James Patrick after the Saturday loss. “Some of our core veteran forwards got on the wrong side of the puck and were hoping for bounces [instead of] defending.”
While the team was missing some key players both nights, with captain Cale Fleury serving the first two games of a suspension from the week before and fellow defenceman Martin Bodak out with an injury, it was undisciplined play that once again hampered their ability to win.
Through seven games, the Ice have 107 penalty minutes — the fourth most in the league — and let in three power play goals over the weekend.
“We shot ourselves in the foot [by] taking those penalties,” said forward Keenan Taphorn. “We have to be more disciplined and I think if we [had been], it would have been a different outcome.”
Although Kootenay’s penalty kill remains the fifth best in the league, the team couldn’t take advantage of any of their own man advantages and went zero for eight in Saskatchewan, while also giving up a shorthanded goal.
Many of these struggles could be blamed on the absence of Fleury and Bodak, but Patrick said that the team proved early on Friday that they could still be competitive without them.
“We [had] very young defencemen [as we were] missing our two best defencemen,” Patrick said after Friday’s game. “We had to protect them and help them out a lot, and I thought [that] went to plan in the first 15 minutes. But then, we didn’t have enough guys backchecking hard enough.”
Despite the final score in Moose Jaw, the Ice started the game off with strong play. Five minutes in, goalie Kurtis Chapman made an impressive stretch pad save on Brett Howden to keep his team in the contest.
A few minutes later, forward Vince Loschiavo got a partial breakaway and nearly beat Brody Willms with an impressive deke at top speed.
While the game was even through the first half of the opening period, Kootenay scored the game’s first goal twelve minutes in when Barrett Sheen took a shot off the wing on a rush with Peyton Krebs.
The goal was Sheen’s second of the year and sixth point in what has so far been a breakout year for the Airdrie product.
Moose Jaw answered right back, however, and scored two quick goals in the space of 15 seconds.
After a disallowed goal from Warriors defenceman Oleg Sosunov and a subsequent goalie interference penalty for Howden, the pair took advantage of the Ice at the end of their penalty kill.
Getting a two-on-one through a fortunate penalty box exit, Howden found the 6’8 Russian blueliner who beat Chapman with soft hands in front of the net.
Seconds later, another odd-man rush led to a goal from Jayden Halbgewachs and sent Kootenay into the first intermission on a low note.
While the Ice were able to open the second period with a 5-on-3 power play, they were only able to get a single shot and failed to tie up the game.
After dominant play, the Warriors then cashed in with two goals midway through the frame with a shorthanded marker from Howden and a power play marker from Noah Gregor.
In the third period, Justin Almeida scored from the slot off a pass from Brayden Burke at the midway point and effectively ended the night.
While Peyton Krebs found Colton Kroeker with a perfect saucer pass on a rush with two minutes to go, the goal was little comfort for the overall loss.
“We had a good start [and] played our type of hockey and then we just fell off and took two shifts off,” said defenceman Dallas Hines. “[We were] too lackadaisical. They’re a good team, but so are we [and] we need to bear down every shift.”
On Saturday, playing in their first home game of the year, the Swift Current Broncos quickly made the Kootenay Ice feel unwelcome in their building.
As was the case in every Broncos win this season, their top line led the way. Tyler Steenbergen (two goals), Aleksi Heponiemi (one goal, three assists) and Glenn Gawdin (one goal, one assist) were too much for the Ice to handle.
The multipoint-nights pushed Steenbergen and Heponiemi to the top of the league in scoring, with 18 and 17 respectively through their first five games.
Although the opening ten minutes were scoreless, Swift Current controlled the game from the opening puck drop and were finally rewarded thirteen minutes in.
Combining with Gawdin and Heponiemi, Steenbergen scored the game’s first goal by beating former teammate Bailey Brkin.
Steenbergen then got the better of Brkin again just 35 seconds into the second period after he converted on an unlucky Ice turnover.
At the midway point of the frame, Swift Current took advantage of their third power play of the game, with defenceman Colby Sissons finding the back of the net from the top of the circle.
A few minutes later, Tanner Sidaway scored the Ice’s first goal of the game which was assisted by Loeden Schaufler, who earned his first career WHL point in his sixth game.
Early in the third period, however, Gawdin was able to regain the team’s three-goal cushion as he put in a power play marker from Sissons. Heponiemi later put the dagger in Kootenay’s heart when he beat Brkin off the rush with a perfect wrist shot.
While Brett Davis managed to score in the last five minutes, as he beat Logan Flodell with a tight-angle shot, it wasn’t enough to spark a comeback.
Instead, in the last few minutes, Barrett Sheen was handed his third minor penalty of the game after he targeted a Broncos’ player with a two-handed slash. An ensuing verbal altercation with a referee then earned him an unsportsmanlike call and a game misconduct.
After each beating the Ice, the Broncos and Warriors played each other on Sunday which ended in a narrow 4-3 Swift Current victory. With 6 games under their belt, Moose Jaw is 5-1-0-0 and Swift Current is 6-0-0-0 and are the top teams in the East Division.