The eulogy is starting to be drafted, but the Kootenay Ice’s season isn’t dead quite yet.
Facing elimination from playoff contention if they lost on Friday night while the Red Deer Rebels won, the Ice squeaked out a single point against the Regina Pats.
A tight affair at Western Financial Place, Kootenay forced overtime with a third period goal before quickly falling in overtime. Red Deer, meanwhile, beat the Lethbridge Hurricanes 4-1 and set up a very difficult situation for the Ice moving forward.
With an eight-point gap in the standings, Kootenay’s only chance at making the postseason is to win their next four games, while the Rebels have to lose their next four games outright. With the final two games of the year being a head-to-head showdown between the rivals, it’s an improbable scenario.
Despite the mathematical dilemma, in their ‘must-win’ game against Regina, the Ice put out one of their best efforts of the year.
“[I was very happy with] our compete and our work ethic against a really good, mature team,” said head coach James Patrick. “We haven’t been able to reach the [goals we set at the start of the season], so it’s disappointing and there are some tears in the dressing room, some real heartache, but I think we worked our hardest [and] laid it all out on the ice.”
From the drop of the puck, both teams played with serious pace, trading chances and power plays. While Regina outshot Kootenay 10-5 in the first period, the goalies stole the show early and kept the score blank.
In the second, the Pats started to get an edge on the Ice, forcing Patrick to change his line-matching and having Brett Davis’ line play against the Pats’ third line.
“[Koby] Morrisseau and his line really started giving us trouble [and] they’ve got three really good top end lines. So I definitely felt in the second period, they started controlling the play,” Patrick said. “They had a lot of zone time, [but] I just thought we worked and competed.”
While they fought hard to keep the powerhouse Pats at bay, the Ice finally gave up the first goal of the game with less than three minutes left in the middle frame.
Walking into the slot, Sam Steel shot through a mess of traffic in front of Duncan McGovern and beat him glove side. Former Kootenay captain Cale Fleury had the secondary assist on the play, his first point against his former team in his first return visit to Cranbrook.
The late goal was a dagger, but the Ice kept their composure in the third. Piling up scoring chances, they finally broke through near the midway mark, as Brett Davis found Alec Baer in front of the net, who beat Max Paddock.
“It was a sigh of relief, because you chip away at it the entire game, and you finally get a bounce and something go your way,” said Cam Hausinger, who had the secondary assist on the goal. “It’s shows you that you can play with a team like that and [that] they’re not unbeatable.”
Moments later, the goal horn went off again, but the puck didn’t cross the goal line. Brad Ginnell barely missed a point blank opportunity, and hit the post after collecting a rebound in prime scoring position.
McGovern then proceeded to save the day for the Ice a few times, ensuring a three-on-three overtime period. After a gritty, low scoring regulation 60 minutes, OT went by quickly. Just 31 seconds in, Steel cut to the middle of the ice and ended the game with a near carbon copy of his earlier tally.
While the ending was frustrating and gave the team their ninth-straight loss, Patrick thought the team put out a complete effort and was proud of their game.
“I [liked our play] from top to bottom,” he said. “I think we’ve come a long way from the start of the year [and] a lot of our young players have improved. We just weren’t able to get those seven or eight more points that were there.”
While Red Deer has a chance to eliminate Kootenay on Saturday, as they host the Medicine Hat Tigers, according to Hausinger, his team isn’t too concerned with what happens elsewhere in the league.
“We’re just focusing on ourselves,” he said. “Obviously, we need help, but we’re not going to think about that. We’re going to control what we can control, and that’s our own game. We’re not going to hope on anyone else to win [or lose] games.”
The Ice play their next game on Sunday against the Edmonton Oil Kings on the road at 4 p.m. Their final home game is on Saturday, March 17 at 7:00 p.m. against Red Deer.