It may have still been preseason play, but the Kootenay Ice sent a clear message to a couple of their biggest rivals over the weekend — the ‘new Ice age’ will include winning.
Playing at the annual Crowsnest Pass Thunder Challenge in Alberta, the Ice took it to the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Friday night with an 8-4 win and then followed it up with a 5-2 defeat of the Calgary Hitmen on Saturday.
While they weren’t perfect, Kootenay showed a lot of their potential upside during the ‘dress rehearsal’ for the regular season.
Against the Hurricanes, the Ice were dominant early on and built up a 5-1 lead after the first period. Led by captain Cale Fleury, who had two goals and an assist in the game, Kootenay made it 8-1 by the end of the second.
After solid play through 40 minutes, the team lost their way in the third period and gave up multiple chances and three goals. While they got the win, the ending left them less than pleased.
— Kootenay ICE (@WHLKootenayICE) September 16, 2017
“I felt that we played the systems right at the start of the game and got some pucks on net,” Fleury said after the game. “We got away from [the game plan] in the third [though], tried to run up the score maybe and shouldn’t have done that.
“If we want to win games in this league, we can’t play the third period like that. It’s the most important period of the game.”
Joining Fleury with a big night on the stat sheet was rookie forward Peyton Krebs, who had two goals, as well as right winger Vince Loschiavo, who had two assists, and left winger Barrett Sheen, who also had two assists.
It was the Kootenay Ice’s first 8-goal performance in a preseason, regular season or playoff game since February 7, 2014 when the team won 8-1 over Lethbridge.
The next night, facing the Calgary Hitmen, the Ice had a tougher test but still managed to hold on for another victory.
With a lineup that is likely to resemble the team that will dress for their home opener against Calgary next Friday, Kootenay refocused on Saturday and had a strong first period.
The team took a 2-0 lead after the first period and despite not playing their best hockey in the second, survived with a 3-1 scoreline.
In the third, the team finished strong with both import-forward Gilian Kohler and defenceman Ryan Pouliot capitalizing on their second goals of the night and sealing a victory.
— Kootenay ICE (@WHLKootenayICE) September 17, 2017
In addition to Kohler and Pouliot’s big games, Fleury, Sebastian Streu and Colton Kroeker each had two assists each. With the pair of points, Kroeker tied with Sheen for the team’s preseason scoring title, with six apiece.
According to head coach James Patrick, the night was a solid effort and a promising lead-in to their regular season.
“I liked the way we started the game, I thought we played a little more North-South [and] got pucks in [well],” Patrick said. “I thought we started swinging too much in the second period [though]. We were taking pucks back and swinging [when we should have] given pucks [back] to the [defencemen].
“I think there were 45 pretty good minutes of hockey [and there were] some good signs.”
While the statement was clearly made for the team’s opening series against the Hitmen, Patrick was more focused on his own team than anything else.
“I thought it was an evenly contested game [and] we scored on opportunities,” he said. “I was just concerned with us playing the game the right way [and] trying to play the three zones. It’s still a learning process [to] play our system and play in different situations. I thought we were better tonight in those areas.”
As for the weekend’s goaltending, newly acquired netminders Bailey Brkin and Kurtis Chapman each picked up wins in their debuts. Brkin had the busier night, making 45 saves on 49 Hurricanes shots, but Chapman was also impressive with 25 saves on 27 shots.
“I thought both of them played well. Lethbridge [in the] third period might have had 15 or 20 chances [and] Bailey played very well,” Patrick said. “Kurtis followed suit [on Saturday]. I thought he was strong and [I] couldn’t blame him on any of the goals.”
Although the preseason has now wrapped up and there is a week before the home opener, the team will not be doing a lot of resting.
“We’ve got a lot of work [ahead of us], Patrick said of their preparation. “I thought as the [Calgary] game went on, our special teams got better, [but] we’re going to continue working on it.
“We’re going to have to fine-tune what we’re doing in the three zones [and] work quite a bit on battle — stick battles, getting under sticks, battling for 50-50 pucks — we’ve got a long way to go to get better in that area.”
With the pair of wins, the Ice finished the preseason with a 3-3-0-0 record. The Ice’s regular season opener against the Calgary Hitmen will take place on Friday, September 22 at 7 p.m. at Western Financial Place.