The Kootenay Ice looked like a new team on Tuesday night against the Medicine Hat Tigers.
After a miserable three-game weekend in which the Ice were outscored 23-2 and handed multiple losses, coach Luke Pierce thought the team had a strong finish to their five-game road trip.
The coach hopes to receive a similar effort from his team in their return to Cranbrook on Friday night against the Red Deer Rebels.
“I liked our composure and thought that we competed hard,” Pierce said of their bounceback 4-3 overtime loss to the Central Division-leading Tigers. “We probably deserved a better fate but [Medicine Hat] is a good hockey team and they found a way to fight back.”
Despite solid play from the opening puck drop against Medicine Hat, Kootenay got down 1-0 after 20 minutes, even while outshooting their opponents 9-7.
Early in the second, Ice forward Tanner Sidaway looked to have tied the game after sneaking one by Michael Bullion on a breakaway, but a quick whistle forced the goal to be disallowed.
With Tigers captain Clayton Kirichenko scoring minutes later, the no-goal became a major blow to the Ice as they were in a 2-0 hole.
“We started thinking that all the hockey gods weren’t letting us catch a break,” Pierce said on Sidaway’s non-goal. “It would’ve been pretty easy for everybody to just fold the tents up after that, but we really emphasized before the game that even if we gave up the first one or two [goals], we had to make sure we kept finding ways to compete.”
In the third period, the Ice showed their resilience and potted three quick goals to take a lead of their own.
It was the Kootenay stars who shone brightest in the impressive comeback, with each member of the top forward line scoring a goal.
“Sometimes [our top guys] take the burden of having to provide offense a little too literally and forget about the other half of the game,” Pierce said. “I thought they did a great job of leading the way and following our game plan.”
Brett Davis kicked off the parade with a perfect redirection of Vince Loschiavo’s shovel to the net from the blueline.
Loschiavo then found Colton Kroeker with a breakaway pass, and the team’s leading scorer made no mistake in putting it to the back of the net.
Loschiavo finally rewarded himself with a goal off a Davis shot’s rebound. Although Bullion caught the puck, a video review showed that his glove was entirely over the goal line and the Ice took a 3-2 lead.
“It felt good [for our line to play well] because we were struggling for a few games before that,” Loschiavo saidof his line with Kroeker and Davis. “It was nice to do something for the team.”
While a timeout following the goal showed the Tigers’ panic, the team proved why they’re one of the top 10 teams in the CHL and tied the game late.
John Dahlstrom’s shot from the slot beat Payton Lee and sent the game into overtime.
Just over 30 seconds into the three-on-three OT, Chad Butcher beat Lee to end the game and let the Medicine Hat crowd breath a sigh of relief.
Loschiavo was named the game’s first star with a goal and two assists, while Lee’s 30 save performance gave him the second-star honours.
According to Pierce, the success was due to a total team effort.
“We defended better as a group. We still have some mistakes [though], but they are pretty easy to iron out,” the coach said. “It was certainly a massive improvement from the previous couple of games.”
With some confidence gained through their game against the Tigers, the Ice must now shift their focus to Red Deer, a team with even more to play for than Medicine Hat.
While the Rebels sit in third place in the Central Division, with only 64 points compared to 95 for the Tigers and 93 for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, they have not locked up a playoff spot and should be desperate for points to stay ahead of the Calgary Hitmen.
“We have to work as a group regardless of what the scoreboard says [and just stay with it,” Pierce said on the Rebels matchup. “[We can’t] have everyone get off onto their own pages because it can get pretty ugly in a hurry when you’re playing teams that have a lot of talent.”
After last week’s 4-0 loss to the Saskatoon Blades, another team hovering around the Wild Card bubble, Pierce indicated that his team may have been surprised at how hungry their opponents are.
He is determined to not let that situation hurt them again.
“We got taught a lesson about that on the weekend and we’ll emphasize our own play,” he said. “We know what we’re going to get. It’s nothing new for us and we’ll be prepared.”
The Ice play the Rebels at home on Friday and on the road on Saturday, ending their Red Deer season series.
Through five games, the Ice have run the gamut in their result against the Rebels. They are 2-2-1-0 against them this year and have a 4-1 win mixed in with a 9-2 loss.
“We’ve played some good hockey against [Red Deer]. Even the last time we were up there [when we lost 6-4], we deserved a better result,” Pierce said. “They’re a team that if you don’t play them the right way, they’ve got the talent to rack up goals.”
Puck drop for Friday’s game goes at 7 p.m. at Western Financial Place and Saturday’s rematch is at 7 p.m. at the ENMAX Centrium.