The Kootenay Ice are headed back to the post-season for the 17th consecutive campaign after clinching a playoff berth with a resounding 7-1 victory over the Medicine Hat Tigers Friday night at Western Financial Place.
The victory pushed the Ice to 35-29-1-3, ensuring the team will also finish above the .500 mark for the 16th consecutive season — an active WHL record.
“It’s good to get that out of the way because we don’t have to worry about that,” Ice forward Austin Vetterl said of clinching a playoff spot. “But we’ve still got Edmonton right behind us. We’ve got to worry about them. We want to finish as high as we can and get some wins.”
With a 32-save performance, Kootenay Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin added to the record evening, establishing a new franchise benchmark for saves in a season.
With 1,732 saves to his credit this season, Hoflin surpassed goaltender Tim Winters (1,725 saves) for sole possession of the record, which had stood since the team’s inaugural season — 1996-97 — when it was located in Edmonton.
Additionally, Hoflin earned his 34th win of the season, tying the franchise record for victories in a season. That mark is now shared by four goaltenders — Hoflin, Mackenzie Skapski (2012-13), Jeff Glass (2004-05) and Dan Blackburn (1999-00).
“It’s an honour to be up there,” Hoflin said Friday night. “It’s nice. It’s more about the wins for me, but it’s nice to have that record.”
Hoflin also inched closer to Mackenzie Skapski’s franchise record for most minutes played in a season. The New York Rangers prospect saw 3,642 minutes in the crease during the 2012-13 season. Hoflin has 3,610 minutes under his belt following Friday’s win.
“He means a lot to our team. He’s a workhorse,” Vetterl said of Hoflin. “I don’t know how many games he’s played, but he’s played a lot. Without him, I don’t think we’d be at the same spot we are now. Congrats to him. He’s done a great job and I think he’s proved a lot of people wrong.”
Last Saturday in Medicine Hat, the Ice had a difficult time putting pucks past Tigers goaltender Marek Langhamer, who backstopped his team to a 1-0 victory.
Friday at home, the Ice had no problem beating the native of Moravska Trebova, Czech Republic, victimizing him seven times on 26 shots before Nick Schneider came on in relief.
“It’s the complete opposite for us,” Hoflin said. “We go from scoring no goals to scoring seven goals. It’s good for our confidence. We just have to make sure we do the same thing [Saturday in Red Deer].”
Vetterl was one of the goal-scoring culprits, tallying a power-play marker midway through the first period that stood as the eventual game-winning tally.
“It hit the goalie, came up and I kind of panicked,” Vetterl said, recounting his game-winning goal. “I whacked it out of the air and it ended up trickling in. It was nice to get.
“The difference was we came to work today. When we were in Medicine Hat, they controlled the game. Today, we got pucks in on their ‘D’ and we got after them. We got traffic on this goalie [Langhamer]. This goalie is an elite goalie. We talked about that before the game and when you get traffic, lucky things happen.”
Forwards Jaedon Descheneau and Matt Alfaro each registered two-goal nights, while Luke Philp, Sam Reinhart and Vetterl each cashed in once.
Vetterl’s tally was of particular importance. Apart from standing as the game-winner, it came in quick response to a short-handed effort by Tigers forward Trevor Cox that tied the game 1-1 in the first period.
It took a matter of 29 seconds for Vetterl to erase any damage or momentum the Tigers had following Cox’s breakaway effort.
From there, the Kootenay Ice controlled the play.
“We’re a good team, I think they know that,” Vetterl said. “But even more so, it shows if they’re going to play us [in the first round of playoffs], they’re not going to walk all over us. We’re going to come out and play them hard.”
As it stands, the Ice hold the first wild-card seed in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. If the playoffs were to start today, the Ice would face the Tigers in first-round action.
Next up, the Ice hit the road to visit the Red Deer Rebels Saturday night.
“We can’t let Red Deer outwork us in their barn,” Vetterl said. “If they get on us early, it’s going to be a rough night. Same sort of objective — pucks to the net. Their goalie played well against us last time. Get pucks behind their ‘D’ and do the little things right. I think our skill will show through.”
Notes: Prior to the game, Kootenay Ice F Zak Zborosky was named Community Player of the Month for February…Ice F Sam Reinhart was named Male Junior Athlete of the Year by Sport B.C. Friday afternoon…The Ice went without D Bryan Allbee, D Dylan Overdyk, F Vince Loschiavo and D Tanner Faith (shoulder, three to five months) Friday night… The Medicine Hat Tigers were without D Tommy Vannelli, D Ty Stanton, F Mason Shaw (lower body) and F Anthony Ast (upper body)…