It was the lowest scoring game they’ve played this year, but I don’t think any Kootenay Ice fans were complaining.
The team hosted the East Division-powerhouse Moose Jaw Warriors (7-2-0-0) and put up an impressive 60 minute performance in a 2-1 home win.
“It [felt] great,” said winger Vince Loschiavo after the game. “It’s huge to get a win, especially against a top team… we just did the little things right, all four lines were going and each guy pitched in for that win.”
In the most recent CHL Top 10 rankings, the Warriors were named the ninth best team in all of Canada. Although the game in Cranbrook was Moose Jaw’s first road match after a seven-game homestand, Kootenay’s play was nonetheless impressive.
“I’m really excited at how well the guys played [and] I think they were rewarded for a great effort in playing the system, playing smart,” said head coach James Patrick at the end of the night. “[The Warriors] have been the best team in the league so far this year and they’re probably the best counter team [with] maybe the best speed.
“There was a big effort from a lot of guys, [so] I’m just happy for them to be rewarded.”
After the game was slightly delayed due to late-arriving referees, the Ice opened the night with strong, structured play and kept up with the fast-skating Warriors in a scoreless but entertaining back-and-forth first period.
In the second, Kootenay grabbed an edge and not only outshot the Warriors 16-9, but opened the game’s scoring.
Taking a pass from Colton Kroeker, rookie blueliner Bobby Russell fired a point shot that was deflected by Loschiavo in front and beat Warriors’ netminder Brody Willms.
The goal was Loschiavo’s second in the past two games which has put an early-season slump in his rearview.
“It feels great [to be scoring],” Loschiavo said. “At the beginning of the year, I was definitely struggling a little bit, not where I wanted my game to be and I just started working a lot harder in practice and off the ice as well… I think it’s going well so far. “
The Warriors countered quickly after Loschiavo’s goal.
After keeping his team in the game with steady play, Bailey Brkin surrendered a goal just past the midway point of the period when a Tanner Jeannot shot fluttered over his glove.
After the play, Brkin spent a few moments staring at his glove in disbelief.
“My glove actually has been busted and I’ve had [trainer] Darcy [Ewanchuk ] rework [it] multiple times,” Brkin said. “I’m just holding onto this one until the new one comes in.”
Fortunately for the Ice, Brkin and his glove rallied and kept the game tied long enough for the team to regain their lead.
On their second power play of the night, Kootenay finally broke a six-game power play scoring drought which had seen 16 straight man advantage attempts fail.
Picking up the rebound of a Martin Bodak shot, Brett Davis got a heroic opportunity as he found the puck and buried it in close.
“Any chance you have to put a couple in the net, it’s nice, but it’s a team game out there,” Davis said. “It’s all the players on the bench and in the dressing room that contributed.”
In the third period, the Warriors high-octane offence threw everything they had at the Ice, but Brkin stood tall and his team executed their defensive systems to a tee.
With a minute and a half left on the clock, Moose Jaw pulled their goalie and brought on an extra-attacker creating plenty of pressure.
While the Ice were unable to pot an extra goal in two attempts, they managed to keep their opponents at bay long enough to allow the crowd a chance at a nice long ovation.
“I thought Cale [Fleury] was huge with the empty net, blocking shots, out battling guys in the corner,” Patrick said. “Colton [Kroeker] was good [too] and Brett [Davis came up with some really good stick checks.”
“[We] battled when the pucks were in the corners, when they got it up, we sagged and got in shot lanes, forced the shots wide and then battled off the rebounds, so I thought everyone on the ice did a really good job.”
Overall, head coach James Patrick was very impressed by his team’s performance against a team that he has great respect for.
“There were so many different guys [who were important for us],” he said. “Michael King played really well, Kaeden Taphorn, I thought that was his best game [and] Keenan [Taphorn] always plays a good two-way game.
“Colton Kroeker did a great job playing against [Brett] Howden, [who] is a first rounder in the NHL and one of the best players in the league. I thought Colton, head-to-head, was fantastic and outplayed him tonight.”
The coach was also happy that his team only gave up two power plays and eight total penalty minutes.
“For us to cut down on the number of penalties, I was happy with that,” Patrick said. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
With the win, the team has flipped their four-game losing skid into a two-game winning streak and now have a 4-5-1-0 record through their first ten games.
“I’ve talked to the guys every day about trying to get better and I thought we built off our last game,” Patrick said. “We’ve got a good team. I think we’ve got some really balanced forwards and I think Cale and Martin Bodak are a top end pairing in this league, so I think we’re getting better and if we believe in ourselves, we can play with anyone.”
The Ice are back in action on Friday, as they head on the road to face the Medicine Hat Tigers. The Tigers have a 5-3-0-0 record so far this season and are tied for first in the Central Division, with one more point than the Ice in two less games.
In 2016-17, the Ice lost all seven of their regular season matches against the Tigers, but riding a two-game winning streak, might just turn their luck around this weekend.