It was a long night for the Kootenay Ice on Saturday, as they hosted the Swift Current Broncos at Western Financial Place.
The team didn’t struggle; the game actually just went on for a long time.
Thanks to frequent penalties and numerous delays, the close 5-3 Kootenay loss went the distance, and ended later than anyone was expecting.
“We became a little unglued and took some undisciplined penalties,” said head coach James Patrick following the game. “I thought the game got so out of hand with so many penalties and too many guys out of the game, [that] it was frustrating.
“[The night went] a half hour longer because it seemed like every five minutes there was a meeting over at the [Swift Current] bench with the coach complaining about something. That was a big, frustrating part of the game, to slow it down.”
Despite having the exact same final score as their match the night before against Spokane, Patrick thought the two efforts were night and day.
“I thought the guys really competed and were willing to check and backcheck,” he said. “I thought it was a lot better effort than our last few games, [and] if we play this way, we’ll have some success.
“I liked the effort from almost every guy tonight.”
Shaking off whatever had been plaguing them in their last two games, the Ice came out hot to start the night against the offensive powerhouse Broncos.
While they were missing Aleksi Heponiemi to injury, Swift Current still presented a monster challenge with two of the league’s top 10 scorers: Glenn Gawdin (97 points in 53 games) and Tyler Steenbergen (77 points in 39 games).
Quickly getting a 5-on-3 power play, Brett Davis opened the game’s scoring by wiring a loose puck in the slot through the legs of Stuart Skinner. Following a quick celebration, however, Davis was sent to the penalty box for a 10-minute mouthguard violation misconduct.
The revolving penalty box door continued to swing at the midway point of the period, as Ice defenceman Jonathan Smart was sent off for roughing, allowing Swift Current to capitalize on their first power play of the night.
Taking a cross-crease pass from Tyler Steenbergen just outside of the slot, Artyom Minulin got his team on the board, and a sprawling Duncan McGovern didn’t have a chance.
Minutes later, the Broncos doubled their lead, as former-Ice forward Max Patterson drove the lane, and put a shot on McGovern’s pad that bounced right to Glenn Gawdin. His 42nd goal of the year, the nervous energy mounting across Western Financial Place at that point was palpable.
Fortunately, just over 30 seconds later, Alec Baer brought sighs of relief to the crowd. Gaining control of a puck right off a faceoff won by Cole Muir, Baer walked to the top of the circle and unleashed a laser beam.
Matching the story of Friday’s game perfectly, Kootenay entered the first intermission with a 2-2 tie. Their shot totals, however, exceeded Friday’s entire game by four as they put up 21 shots on Skinner in the first period alone.
In the second period, the Ice took the lead. Just five minutes in, Brett Davis got back to his pre-misconduct speed, and took advantage of a mad scramble in front of Skinner. Spinning around and firing the puck, Davis put in his second of the game and 20th of the year.
“He’s been playing well, [and] you’ve got to give him credit,” said linemate Cam Hausinger. “He’s been moving his feet. He’s a good guy to put out there when you need a goal [because] he’s a threat from anywhere on the ice.”
Aside from a few penalties sprinkled throughout the rest of the frame, the game remained tight and the Ice managed to keep Swift Current at bay until there was less than a minute left.
As the clock wound down, Colby Sissons threw a chance at McGovern that was tipped in front by Gawdin and found its way to the back of the net.
Penalties continued to dog the start of the final period, but really exploded at the halfway mark. Scoring his hat-trick goal on a crash-the-Kootenay-net play, Gawdin sparked a lengthy delay that severely changed the dynamic of the game.
As a result of a scrum following the goal, Colton Veloso was sent off for roughing, Gawdin was given four minutes for spearing, and McGovern was removed from the game and given a match penalty.
The official reason for the ejection was “attempt to injure” as the Ice goalie looked to extract Gawdin, after he forward fell on top of him, with a push from his skate blade.
“We lost our cool,” Patrick said of the incident. “You can’t take a match penalty. [Clearly], there was some frustration.”
Heading into the net cold, and with the team in front of him shaken, Matt Berlin let in a goal just 40 seconds after taking the crease, as Matteo Gennaro backhanded one over his pad.
From there, the Ice were not able to recover and finally skated off the ice with a disappointing 5-3 loss to end their seven-game homestand.
While it was not an ideal ending, Hausinger thought it was a game chock-full of positives.
“[It was] a good game in the first period, [and a] good all-around game,” he said. “It was fun to play. You know, it’s kind of a playoff atmosphere out there, [and] I thought the fans were good too. We just need to learn how to pull through there at the end.”
The team also ended a two-game shutout streak that Skinner had been mounting against Kootenay since earlier in the year, when he was perfect for the Lethbridge Hurricanes against the Ice.
“We found some shooting lanes [and] we talked about trying to take his eyes away,” Patrick said, explaining how they finally managed to beat Skinner. “There were some good plays by some different guys. We talked about doing a better job and I think we did.”
Now on a three-game losing streak, Kootenay is heading out on the road for four games in Saskatchewan. At 23-26-3-0, they remain in third place in the Central Division, and should make the playoffs, barring a total meltdown.
“I think if we bring the compete like we did tonight, we’ll be a hard team to [beat] on the entire road trip,” Hausinger said. “It doesn’t matter [who] we’re playing, we’ve got to [go for] a full 60 minutes. That’s our main focus… being good mentally, physically and being prepared for the game.”
The Ice kick off their trip on Tuesday with a game against the Saskatoon Blades at 6 p.m.