There really is no place like home.
A night after an 11-1 loss on the road in Medicine Hat, the Kootenay Ice returned to Cranbrook on Saturday and pulled off a gutsy 5-4 overtime win over the Swift Current Broncos.
Led by key veterans Cale Fleury (two goals) and Colton Kroeker (a goal and two assists), the team managed to tie the game three times against the WHL’s most potent offence, before securing a victory in 3-on-3.
“Top to bottom, it was such a huge character win for us, not only coming back in the game, but coming back after a very disappointing result,” said head coach James Patrick. “I thought we out-chanced [Swift Current] and played really well defensively. The second half of the game, we really didn’t give them much.”
Heading into the game, the Broncos were 9-1-0-0 and had already beaten Kootenay 5-2 in a prior meeting this year.
Kootenay, meanwhile, was 4-6-1-0 and had just faced a humiliating blowout loss to the Tigers after having beaten the Moose Jaw Warriors 2-1 at home on Tuesday night.
“We were coming off a high going into Medicine Hat and I think we let that get to our head and then it was kind of a humbling night for us,” said Fleury, the team’s captain. “It was a good bounce-back win for us [against Swift Current].”
The Ice opened the game with strong play in the first half of the opening period and were rewarded with a goal by Colton Veloso that was assisted by Gilian Kohler and Peyton Krebs.
Unfortunately, the team started to get into penalty trouble after that, and the Broncos earned back-to-back power play goals to end the frame.
The first goal was scored by Aleksi Heponiemi, who is second in the WHL with 30 points in 11 games, and the second was scored by Tyler Steenbergen who has the most points in the league with 33 in as many games.
“[They have] definitely the best line in the league,” said Kroeker. “It’s hard to play against them [and] they have a good power play.”
In the second period, the Ice got their own chance at a power play after Conner Chaulk was given an unsportsmanlike conduct minor following a fight with Dallas Hines.
Cale Fleury ended up burying the 2-2 tying goal off a point shot delivered by Kroeker.
Three minutes later, Glenn Gawdin upped the score with a shot from the side of the net that beat Bailey Brkin and led to Patrick switching him for Kurtis Chapman for the second straight night.
“I know Bailey would like to have a couple back tonight and [for] both guys, I thought it wasn’t our best night in net,” the coach said. “Certainly [for] coming in cold, Kurtis was solid when he had to be.”
Less than 40 seconds after the goalie-swap, the Ice scored another tying goal as Veloso found Kohler who sniped home a shot in the slot.
An Ice penalty — this time to Ryan Pouliot for high-sticking —- got Swift Current back into the lead as Steenbergen scored another goal.
“I felt [like] we were playing catch up a lot,” Patrick said. “You’re naturally going to be on your heels a little bit coming off what happened[in Medicine Hat], but we just had to keep coming back [after their] power play [scored].”
Although Brett Davis appeared to have scored in the last second of the second frame, to tie the game again, the referee eventually ruled that the puck had crossed the line after time had expired.
Heading into the last 20 minutes, the game continued to be a special teams battle and the Ice finally capitalized nine minutes in with another Cale Fleury point shot goal on the power play.
Kootenay then held on to take the game to 3-on-3 overtime and patiently created some magic.
After Steenbergen was denied by the post on a wide-open chance at one end, Alec Baer took the puck the other way on a 2-on-1 with Colton Kroeker who scored the game-winning goal.
“I don’t know how I got the puck off my stick, but I did and somehow it went in the net,” Kroeker said with a chuckle. “I was pretty tired at the end, to be honest. I could [barely] make it, but [Baer] made a nice pass.”
Overall, Kroeker credited the win to a total team effort with solid defensive play.
“I thought we just played a good system,” he explained. “Every line was going [and] firing on all cylinders. Our power play was working, [we got] shots from the point, we were moving the puck around, [we were] backchecking in the zone and getting pucks out. I thought everything was just better today.”
Patrick agreed, saying that the entire team deserved credit for the victory, but gave special praise to his top centreman.
“I challenge Colton Kroeker and his line on a nightly basis [to] match up against the supposed best players in the league,” he said. “He’s certainly our best player and he’s our smartest player… 5-on-5, I think he did a great job against [the Steenbergen line].”
The coach also gave props to a few other players.
“Bodak and Fleury were strong against the top end players,” he said. “I thought Michael King’s line in the first period gave us some of the best chances [and] Gilian Kohler played really well for us.”
While Kohler was a healthy scratch against the Tigers the night before, Patrick clarified that it was not a slight against the young Swiss-import.
“It’s different rinks, [a] different culture, [a] different language and a lot of adjustments for him,” he said. “He’s [also] used to playing 30 games or 35 games a year, playing only on weekends.
“In the last three or four games, he’s been outstanding for us. How he’s played and how he’s come along, he’s made some strides and he got rewarded tonight for it.”
Patrick also gave some credit for the team’s recent success in their home building, to the fans at Western Financial Place.
“I think there is some good energy in the building,” he said. “You can definitely feel it.”
The Ice have another quick turnaround, as they play the Regina Pats on Tuesday night in the second game of a four-night homestand.
“I hope [these two past games were a learning experience],” Patrick said. “We’ve got to let this one sink in a bit, but we are nowhere near the type of team that can feel so good about ourselves that we can get even close to complacency,
“We’ve got another really good opponent coming in [but] if we pay attention to details and we play our system and do the little things, they all add up and then we’re a pretty good team.”
With the win, the Ice remain just outside of the playoff picture with 11 points in 12 games while the Pats are in the top Wild Card position with 15 points in 13 games. The game will also be the first between the two teams since they swapped forwards Jeff de Wit and Tanner Sidaway earlier this month.
Colton Kroeker is now tied for first in team scoring with rookie Peyton Krebs, as both players have 11 in 12 games. In his three-point night, Kroeker also exceeded 100 career WHL points and now has 102 as a 20-year-old player.
1st Period-1, Kootenay, Veloso 3 (Kohler, Krebs), 7:08. 2, Swift Current, Heponiemi 7 (Steenbergen, Minulin), 17:44 (PP). 3, Swift Current, Heponiemi 8 (Gawdin, Steenbergen), 18:57 (PP). Penalties-Veloso Ktn (roughing), 16:25; Hausinger Ktn (boarding), 18:43.
2nd Period-4, Kootenay, Fleury 2 (Kroeker, Loschiavo), 3:16 (PP). 5, Swift Current, Gawdin 8 (Heponiemi, Khaira), 6:14. 6, Kootenay, Kohler 2 (Veloso), 6:50. 7, Swift Current, Steenbergen 21 (Sissons, Gawdin), 8:41 (PP). Penalties-Chaulk Sc (unsportsmanlike cnd., major-fighting), 2:04; Hines Ktn (major-fighting), 2:04; Pouliot Ktn (high sticking), 7:51; Stanley Sc (high sticking), 12:33; Chaulk Sc (interference), 17:17; Stanley Sc (cross checking), 18:42; Kroeker Ktn (tripping), 18:51.
3rd Period-8, Kootenay, Fleury 3 (Kroeker, Loschiavo), 8:54 (PP). Penalties-Hobson Sc (interference), 1:56; Khaira Sc (high sticking), 8:00; Chaulk Sc (roughing), 11:31; Veloso Ktn (roughing), 11:31.
OT Period-9, Kootenay, Kroeker 5 (Baer, Hines), 2:53. Penalties-No Penalties
Shots on Goal-Swift Current 10-6-9-1-26. Kootenay 11-13-10-2-36.
Power Play Opportunities-Swift Current 3 / 4; Kootenay 2 / 6.
Goalies-Swift Current, Flodell 8-0-1-0 (36 shots-31 saves). Kootenay, Brkin 3-3-1-0 (13 shots-10 saves); Chapman 2-3-0-0 (13 shots-12 saves).