It was one step forward and one step back over the weekend for the Kootenay Ice.
The hometown club defeated the Eastern Conference leading Prince Albert Raiders 3-2 on Friday, but fell 6-1 in Lethbridge to the Hurricanes on Saturday.
Sam Reinhart scored the insurance goal against the Raiders in the final period on Friday, but Josh Morrissey answered with 10 minutes left in the game, however, Kootenay held on for the win.
The Hurricanes scored three goals in both the first and second period on their Teddy Bear Toss night to coast to a 6-1 win on Saturday at the Enmax Centre.
Kootenay has had bizarre anomalies in their record, where they lose to lower-ranked teams, yet find success against the best in the conference. The Ice have defeated the conference-leading Raiders once in two meetings, along with splitting the season series against the Edmonton Oil Kings, who sit in second place.
Out of four games against the Hitmen, who occupy third in the conference, the Ice have taken away one contest.
Ice goaltender Mackenzie Skapksi said the team knows it can play with the best but still struggles with consistency, the problem that has dogged them all season.
“I think it’s just bringing it every night,” said Skapski. “The consistency factor is lacking in our game and we need find it out here.”
The injury bug has hit a few Ice veterans, as Tanner Muth and Joey Leach—both with upper body injuries—didn’t play over the weekend, while Brock Montgomery didn’t suit up in Lethbridge after being on the receiving end of a check to the head in the game against the Raiders.
Evan Morden, the player who delivered the hit to Montgomery, will be punished by the WHL in a manner to be determined, according to the WHL’s discipline web page.
Skapski stood in net for both games, stopping 37 shots against the Raiders, while turning away 28 pucks against the Hurricanes.
The fur flew on Friday night as Jaedon Descheneau scored the opening goal for the A&W Bear, Toque and Mitten Toss roughly eight minutes into the second period.
“It was great,” said Descheneau on scoring the goal that caused a hail of furry debris. “It’s something that I’ve thought about the last couple of days. It was a great pass from Philper, it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for that.”
The speedy forward received the puck from Luke Philp on an odd-man rush and cut across the crease to stuff the biscuit past Raiders netminder Andy Desautels.
Even though the two teams were scoreless in the first frame, both had chances.
Skapski stood tall on a few odd-man rushes and robbed Anthony Bardaro, who only needed to lift the puck over the sprawled goaltender for a goal.
Facing down 39 shots kept Skapski busy in the crease.
“I enjoy it, I get a ton of action,” said the Ice goaltender. “As the shots increase, I get more confidence and I thrive off that.”
The Ice, in turn, were moving the puck extremely well, and created some opportunities while entering the offensive zone, but Desautels was equally sharp.
Kootenay doubled the score under two minutes after Descheneau’s goal, when Levi Cable got a stick on a point shot from Tanner Faith, tipping the puck past the Raiders’ goaltender.
But the Raiders clawed their way into the game on a late goal, when Davis Vandane rifled a shot from the blue line into the net with a screen in front of Skapski.
The game turned into a bit of a ugly affair in the latter half of the final period.
Reinhart sniped the top corner glove side from the slot less than a minute into the period to regain a two-goal lead, but the Raiders were given a couple two-man advantages and capitalized.
Josh Morrissey made it a one goal game during a power play, blasting a slap shot from the point with nine minutes to go in the game.
Things went downhill after that.
Dakota Conroy took out Cable on the sideboards in a dirty hit, and ended up having to answer to Zach McPhee, who threw down the mitts for retribution.
But the real scare happened with two minutes remaining in the game, when Morden cruised down towards his net and took out a forechecking Montgomery with an open-ice hit to the head.
The referee didn’t initially raise his hand for a penalty as the play went on, but Jon Martin went after Morden and dispensed pugilistic justice while Kootenay trainer Cory Cameron headed out onto the ice. Montgomery looked unbalanced as he tried to get up on his own power, but Cameron and a teammate helped him up off the ice and took him to the dressing room.
With the crowd chanting it’s displeasure, the officials gathered at centre ice for a conference and dealt with the fallout from all the chaos.
Kootenay went into Lethbridge the following night without Leach, Montgomery and Muth—all of whom are older veterans with leadership roles.
Lethbridge scored three goals in 10 shots in the first period, and followed up with another three-goal performance in the middle frame to earn the win.
Brady Ramsay lit the goal lamp five minutes into the game, while Graham Hood and Jay Merkley followed up with power play markers.
Philp answered for the Ice seven minutes into the second period on the man-advantage, but Jamien Yakubowski responded three minutes later, while Ramsay added his second of the night, along with another Lethbridge powerplay marker from Russell Maxwell.
ICE NOTES: The Ice will hand out teddies, toques and mitts to patients at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital on Monday. The three schools that won the $500 prize for showing the most spirit during School Spirit Night will get a visit from the boys in blue, black and gold on Monday as well. In the afternoon, a couple players will also be hanging out with Santa Claus at the Tamarack Centre.