17-year-old Kootenay Ice goalie Duncan McGovern earned his first shutout of his WHL career against the Kamloops Blazers on Sunday. (Brad McLeod Photo)

Kootenay Ice survive barrage of bears, pull off road win

Team faces back-to-back ‘teddy toss’ nights, fall to Kelowna before earning shutout win in Kamloops

They may have left the increasingly cold weather of Cranbrook, but on the road in BC, the Kootenay Ice faced a forecast of teddy bear storms.

Playing the Kelowna Rockets on Friday and the Kamloops Blazers on Saturday, the Ice were the scheduled visitors for both teams’ ‘teddy bear toss’ promotion nights.

Started in Kamloops in 1993, the yearly Christmas event — which has been adopted by every team in the WHL — encourages fans to bring stuffed animals to the game and throw them on the ice after their team scores their first goal of the game.

After having been shutout by the Lethbridge Hurricanes and then bounced back with an OT win over the Raiders in a pair of home games before their lengthy 5-game road trip, the Ice felt tentatively optimistic heading into Friday night.

Although in both games, the teddies were tossed in the first period, the Ice only lost to Kelowna 5-2 and actually shutout Kamloops 4-0, in a strange night.

Friday was a tough match from the drop of the puck. Facing a Kelowna team that features several top NHL prospects, the Ice knew they were in for a big challenge.

While they kept the Rockets at bay for the first half of the opening period, at the 12-minute mark, Conner Bruggen-Cate was a somewhat unlikely player to send the teddies flying as he beat Bailey Brkin by walking in and firing an unassisted marker.

While the Ice kept the game close for the rest of the first period and the second, putting up 16 shots and receiving some great backstopping from Brkin, who robbed Calgary Flames prospect Dillon Dube with a great glove save, Brayden Chizen walked in at the end of the second and gave his side a 2-0 lead.

Vancouver Canucks draft pick Kole Lind then buried a cross-crease pass from Dube at the start of the third to extend the lead, but the Ice didn’t allow them to feel too comfortable.

Breaking 16-year-old Roman Basran’s bid for a second straight shutout, Kootenay defenceman Martin Bodak scored his first career WHL goal as he took a pass from Peyton Krebs and wired a wrister from the top of the circle on a power play.

With only a two-goal deficit, the Ice pressed but were unable to cash in on another man advantage. Then, an unnecessary penalty by Alec Baer in which he cross-checked a Rockets player from behind into his own bench on a line change, ended up costing Kootenay a goal on the ensuing penalty kill.

Just nine seconds in, Nolan Foote finished off a perfect passing play with Dube and brother Cal Foote that was impossible for Brkin to stop.

James Hilsendager then scored on a partial breakaway, thanks to a perfect feed by Lind, and effectively put a dagger in the Ice’s chances.

Although Baer managed to score by outwaiting a sprawling defenceman on a block and walking inside and roofing the puck, it wasn’t enough to spark a comeback and the team lost 5-2 to kick off their road trip.

According to Ice head coach James Patrick, speaking after the game, while the team played well for the majority of the game, they were let down by the follow-through of some players at the end of the night.

“I was happy with some of our players [but] I’m not happy overall,” Patrick said. “The result was really disappointing and some of the mistakes were from our key guys who should know better.”

“I liked three-quarters of the way, how we played and a lot of our mistakes were self-induced […] it was a fast game [and] we had four lines rolling, doing a lot of good things and then we had a huge turnover.”

Captain Colton Kroeker agreed, saying the loss was largely a result of “dumb mistakes.”

“We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times [even though] we played a pretty good game for the most part,” he said. “We had a lot of possession of the puck and needed to get more bodies to the net and greasy goals.”

Squaring off against the red-hot Kamloops Blazers on Saturday afternoon, the Ice improved their play dramatically and pulled off a huge victory.

Coming into the night, the home team was 8-2 in their last ten games after a rough start to the season and the re-energized crowd was clearly pumped for their long-standing teddy toss tradition.

They didn’t have to wait long to throw their bears, even though they should have, as captain Nick Chyzowski found the back of the net while Ice goalie Duncan McGovern was helmetless behind the net.

Although the referee immediately waved off the goal due to goalie interference, the bears were unstoppable and ended up being tossed after the Blazers not only didn’t score, but were given a penalty.

After a slough of unsuccessful power plays, including a 5-on-3, defenceman Dallas Hines opened the game’s scoring for real as he took a cross-ice pass with speed at the 14-minute mark and slapped it home.

Kootenay continued to play well defensively in the second period and kept the game at 1-0 until doubling the score at the end of the frame with Keenan Taphorn passing from behind the goal line, out front to Sebastian Streu, who beat Dylan Ferguson, caught looking for the puck in the opposite corner.

In the third period, the Ice sealed the deal with a two-on-one goal, assisted by Kroeker and scored by Vince Loschiavo, and then a Baer-to-Colton Veloso marker gave them their huge 4-0 win.

Ice rookie netminder Duncan McGovern made 27 saves for the first shutout of his WHL career, and the first for a Kootenay goalie since Wyatt Hoflin made 51 saves against the Edmonton Oil Kings at home on March 16, 2016.

“He was under control and I thought as the game went on [even] his puck-handling got better,” Patrick said of McGovern. “There were times when he didn’t see any action for seven [to] eight minutes before being tested [and] in the third period he came out with some huge saves.”

Under fire from the Blazers late in the game, who were desperate to score a genuine teddy bear goal, McGovern was a brick wall and also received a huge helper from defenceman Bobby Russell who robbed a diving Ondrej Vala at the goal line.

While McGovern was perhaps the biggest story of the win, Colton Kroeker had three assists to give him a four point-weekend. According to Patrick, their success came down to being effective in playing their system.

“We were playing a tired team that [had] played three [games] in less than three nights,” he said. “I thought we let them hang around a little too long [but] I liked our neutral zone defence.”

While Patrick also wasn’t happy with the power play, which went 1-for-8 and has been an ongoing struggle, he was very satisfied to get a shutout.

“It was really nice for [McGovern] to get his first shutout, and really nice for us to get a shutout when the other team wants to have their teddy bear toss,” he said. “A lot of teams chose to have the Kootenay Ice as an easy target when they penciled it in the schedule during the summer and we take it as a bit of an insult and that’s how the guys approached it.”

Remaining in third place in the Central Division with a 13-15-1-0 record, the Ice have three more games left in their BC road trip with a visit to the Prince George Cougars on Tuesday, the Victoria Royals on Friday and the Vancouver Giants on Saturday.

The game against the Royals will once again be a teddy bear toss night, and Kootenay will then host their own ‘Toque, Mitten and Teddy Bear Toss’ in their first game after returning home on Saturday, December 16th against the Calgary Hitmen.

Puck drop for Tuesday’s game is at 8 p.m at the CN Centre in Prince George. At 10-14-2-2, the Cougars are in last place in the Western Conference.

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