A mountain of milestones began to rise Saturday night at Western Financial Place as the Kootenay Ice were set to host the Swift Current Broncos in the 1,200th regular-season game in franchise history.
En route to a 5-2 victory over the Broncos, Kootenay Ice forwards Levi Cable, Jaedon Descheneau and Austin Vetterl all hit major career marks.
Sunday night, in a 7-4 victory over the Prince George Cougars, rookies Keelan Williams and Austin Wellsby pounced on opportunities to claim WHL firsts.
Saturday against the Broncos, Cable was the man to get the ball rolling.
The 20-year-old native of Hudson Bay, Sask., is in the midst of a career season, having tallied 22 goals and 37 points, both career highs. Saturday night, he factored into the opening goal against the Broncos, earning the 100th point of his WHL career.
“It’s something I was hoping for from the start of the season,” Cable said Saturday night. “It’s nice to get it out of the way. Now I can just focus on getting to playoffs.”
Cable worked the puck back to the point, finding Tanner Lishchynsky, who sent a shot towards Broncos goaltender Landon Bow. Luke Philp managed to redirect the point shot to give the Ice a 1-0 advantage.
Next on the list of milestone men was Descheneau.
The 19-year-old Edmonton native took a bouncing puck and redirected it with his skate past Bow to double the hosts lead, collecting his 100th WHL goal in the process. After being called a good goal on the ice, the play was briefly reviewed before it was confirmed.
“It’s a good thing to get in this league,” said the St. Louis Blues prospect Saturday night. “It’s an honour. It’s a hard league to score goals in. I’ve always taken pride in my scoring ability, but obviously I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. They get me the puck. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Descheneau added another goal Sunday against the Prince George Cougars, bringing his career numbers to 101 goals and 248 points in 240 WHL games.
Fresh off a trip to the BMO CHL Top Prospects Game, Broncos forward Jake DeBrusk — son of former NHLer Louie DeBrusk — chipped in a pair of goals for the Broncos, one in the first period and the other on the power play late in the second period.
Vetterl, an overage forward, was the third and final Ice player to hit a major milestone Saturday night against the Broncos as he played in his 250th WHL game. The native of Surrey, B.C., marked the night with a pair of crucial goals.
After both of DeBrusk’s tallies for the visitors, Vetterl was there to restore his team’s two-goal advantage, scoring in the second period and shorthanded early in the third period. Vetterl’s first of the night stood as the eventual game-winning marker.
“Sam [Reinhart] saw me and he made a great pass to me,” Vetterl said of his breakaway winner Saturday night. “I came in and shot it — it hit the goalie in the glove at first. I thought I didn’t score. Then it trickled in behind the goalie. Nice to get a little luck on my side finally.”
Goaltender Wyatt Hoflin made 22 stops for his 25th victory of the season. At the other end, Bow was victimized five times on 35 shots in a losing effort.
After Hoflin claimed his 25th win of the season, he gave way for backup goaltender Keelan Williams Sunday night against the Prince George Cougars.
With his mother in the crowd, the rookie puck-stopper from Calgary turned in a 26-save performance, leading his team to a 7-4 victory over the Cougars. The win was the first of Williams’ WHL career.
“It’s a huge weight off of my shoulders,” said the 6-foot-2 goaltender Sunday evening. “I think I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself over the last little bit just to try and get that first win. It’s really exciting. I’m really happy and I’m really thankful for the way my teammates played in front of me tonight. It’s a great feeling.
“It was really special to have my mom out and get her to see that. I actually didn’t even know I was starting [against Prince George]…I walked into the arena [Sunday afternoon] and I saw my name on the board. I just thought, ‘Okay, I’ve got to go get this win while she’s out here so she can see it.’”
The opportunities for that first career win have been few and far between for Williams, as Wyatt Hoflin has handled the lion’s share of the work this season.
Williams’ last start came Jan. 10, a 6-3 loss to the Saskatoon Blades. Prior to that, he hadn’t started a game since a 5-2 loss in Saskatoon Oct. 22. Even having only appeared in nine games, the 19-year-old Williams is savouring the chance to learn behind a veteran keeper like Hoflin.
“He’s a great goaltender and one thing that he’s really good at is being calm and playing in his technical game,” Williams said of Hoflin. “He’s a really calm goaltender and he’s done really well. He practices hard and he’s really good at preparing for games. That’s one thing I can really learn from him and take into my own game. I’m really lucky to have him as a goaltending partner.”
Williams wasn’t the only member of the Ice to record a career first Sunday evening.
With a 4-2 lead midway though the second period, Tyler King unloaded a cannon of a slapshot, snapping his stick in half. As the shot made its way towards Cougars goaltender Tavin Grant, rookie Austin Wellsby got a piece of the puck, redirecting it past the Cougars goaltender for a 5-2 Ice lead. The goal was the first of Wellsby’s career and went on to stand as the game-winning tally Sunday night.
“It’s nice to get the first one out of the way,” Wellsby said Sunday, with a face full of shaving cream courtesy of Descheneau.
The 6-foot-3 native of Chilliwack, B.C., was active on the scoresheet and the fight card Sunday, dropping the mitts with Cougars forward Kody McDonald later in the game.
“It’s my job, right now, to play physical and get momentum going for the guys,” Wellsby said. “If I’m not going to be playing a whole lot I’ve got to at least do my part.”
Wellsby’s first-career WHL goal comes in his 36th career WHL game. The rookie forward skated in five games with the Ice last season and has dressed in 31 games so far this season.
Apart from Wellsby’s defining moment, three Ice forwards registered three-point nights against the Cougars. Philp (3A), Descheneau (1G, 2A) and Tim Bozon (2G, 1A) helped fuel the offense, while Reinhart (2A) and Cable (2G) chipped in as well.
“It was awesome,” Bozon said. “[Wellsby] hasn’t played in a while and he jumps back in the lineup, uses his body, plays physical and he gets rewarded.
“That’s going to help him a lot. A lot of confidence for the kid. I know he’s working hard in practice even though he’s not playing [a lot]. It’s nice to see a guy like that scoring. Everybody is happy for him.”
The pair of wins pushes the Ice (26-22-0-1, 53 points) up the WHL’s Central Division standings into fourth place, ahead of the Edmonton Oil Kings (22-21-4-2, 50).
Next up, the Ice visit the Lethbridge Hurricanes Wednesday night at 7 p.m.