If hockey included two warm-up periods, the Kootenay Ice would’ve come out flying on Tuesday night.
In the third period against the Regina Pats at Western Financial Place, the Ice were all over their opposition, playing a high-tempo, simple, physical game.
Unfortunately, at that point the game was already out of reach and Kootenay ended the night with a 6-3 loss.
“I didn’t like the way we started the game, I thought we had no energy,” said head coach James Patrick at the end of the night. “We weren’t physically engaged in the game [and] we might have won [only] 30 percent of the 50-50 puck battles.”
The loss was yet another let down after an emotional win, an emerging trend for the Ice. Last week, after beating the Moose Jaw Warriors 2-1, Kootenay lost 11-1 to the Medicine Hat Tigers. While they followed that up with a 5-4 OT win over the Swift Current Broncos, they failed to keep their upwards trajectory against Regina.
“I don’t think it’s a step back, [but] just another lesson for the team on how hard it is to win in this league,” Patrick said. “Regina started the year as the favourite to be the best team in the [WHL] and they haven’t got off to a good start, but they’ve got some good players.
“We need to play way better when we’re playing a team like that.”
According to captain Cale Fleury, who had two assists in the loss, there were not a lot of positives in the entire outing.
“We weren’t really competing as hard as we needed to and we mixed that with not playing our system well enough,” he said. “It obviously didn’t work out too well for us.”
Adding to the Ice’s problems, while facing an offence that included last season’s league point-leader Sam Steel, was a shortage of defenceman.
With Zachary Patrick and Loeden Schaufler both sidelined with upper body injuries, and Ryan Pouliot missing the game for internal reasons, forward Sebastian Streu had to fill in on the backend.
“We were just trying to use [Streu] to relieve the ice time on some of the other guys,” Patrick said. “[Only having five defencemen] had a huge effect on the game.”
With a less than ideal lineup heading in, the Ice got behind the eight-ball quickly against the Pats, as defenceman Josh Mahura wired a slap shot past Bailey Brkin less than three minutes in.
While Brett Davis managed to tie the game 30 seconds later, after he put in a rebound off a strong Keenan Taphorn drive, the good vibes wouldn’t last long.
Just past the halfway mark of the game, Matt Bradley scored his 12th goal of the year immediately off a faceoff win by Jake Leschyshyn.
To close out the period, a tripping call against the Ice rewarded Bryce Platt with a penalty shot and he beat Brkin blocker-side.
“When you get down with goals like that early in the game, it’s going to bite you in the ass and that’s what happened tonight,” said forward Brett Davis. “Our starts need to be a lot better [in the future].”
Early in the second period, the Ice once again failed to find a response for the high-flying Pats and George King scored to make it a 4-1 game.
Robbie Holmes then took a feed from Steel a few minutes later, and a few moments after that, Mahura put in his second goal of the night on the power play, with assists to Steel and Emil Oksanen.
While the Ice started to turnaround their game in the latter half of the middle frame, the damage was already done. A Cam Hausinger fight with Platt lifted a few spirits, but the team didn’t really get revved up until the third.
“We were just trying to stop it from being like it was in Medicine Hat,” Fleury said of the change in the third. “We needed to stop the bleeding at some point and tried to battle back.”
Taking four penalties in the final 20 minutes of the game, the Pats gave the Ice a chance to comeback and the team tried admirably.
Davis scored on the first man advantage, putting in a wrist shot from the top of the circle fed to him by Cale Fleury and restored some life in the building.
After continuing to mount pressure, Colton Veloso scored a similar power play goal at the midway point, once again assisted by Fleury, but it was their last of the night.
Despite the Ice only putting up five shots in the first half of the game, the night ended with Regina outshooting them 39 to 26. The Pats were also dominant in faceoffs winning 30 of 47 draws, and went 1-for-2 on the power play and 5-for-seven on the penalty kill.
“I think we need a lot of work on our PK,” Patrick said. “Hockey smarts is really important in [that situation] and [you need] energy, cutting the ice in half, taking good angles [and] really pressuring when you can.
“We just gave up too many easy pucks. I’ve taught the guys, if you can’t win a puck battle, tie it — don’t let them have it.”
While Patrick was fairly happy with the team’s power plays late in the game, he was disappointed with how they handled the opportunities that mattered.
“[The Pats] are the most aggressive penalty killers in the league and all we talked about [before the game] was we need five-foot, seven-foot support passes — we have to move [the puck] right away,” he explained. “We were holding onto the puck too long… it was incredible how many guys would hold onto it for one second, two seconds, three seconds [and] stick handle — that kills the power play.”
With the loss, the Ice remain out of the playoff picture with a 5-7-1-0 record, while Regina improved to 8-5-1-0 and are in the top Wild Card position.
The match was also the second of a four-game Ice homestand, which continues on Friday against the Seattle Thunderbirds. Prior to the game, the Ice had not lost by more than a single goal in Cranbrook in their first seven home games.
According to Fleury, the key to a rebound against the defending Ed Chynoweth Cup champions is improved preparation.
“We need to be ready to go right at the drop of the puck,” he said.” We answered the [Pats] first goal quickly, but they got ahead of us and took advantage of us and we didn’t battle back.”
Friday’s game begins at 7 p.m. at Western Financial Place.