Throughout the 2015-16 campaign for the Kootenay Ice, head coach Luke Pierce has been preaching the necessity of the process.
Despite the fact Tuesday night went into the books as a 4-2 loss to the Red Deer Rebels, there were reasons for hope deep within the depths of Western Financial Place.
“We stayed to the plan and ended up outshooting them in the [third] period — that’s a really positive sign from the group,” Pierce said following Tuesday’s loss.
“We were smart. We were simple. Our defense moved the puck a lot quicker than we’ve seen in the past. We didn’t try overplaying things and we managed to have a little more zone time with smart feet and things like that.
“I thought we had a more consistent effort and I think these guys finally realize the challenge that’s ahead of them and they’re ready to dig in and work for it.”
Though there were hiccups throughout Tuesday’s tilt in Cranbrook, what a young Kootenay Ice squad put on display was certainly one of its more consistent performances of the season. Barring an empty-net goal that sealed the decision late in regulation, the Ice battled a veteran Rebels squad preparing to host the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
Rebels defenceman Colton Bobyk put the ultimate dagger on the board as his long point shot found a hole in goaltender Wyatt Hoflin with only 4:15 remaining in the third period of a 2-2 hockey game.
Bobyk, a native of Red Deer, finished the night with the game-winning goal and two assists to lead his club.
Up until that moment, the contest was up for grabs.
Heading into the third period tied 1-1, the Rebels got a jump on the final 20 minutes after captain Wyatt Johnson scored on an odd sequence only 10 seconds in.
A seemingly harmless dump in from the Rebels made its way towards the crease of Hoflin. What should have been a routine play of the puck quickly went awry, as Johnson pounced and poked it past the bewildered 20-year-old puck-stopper for a 2-1 lead.
Midway through the period, Ice defenceman Dallas Hines sent a long-range shot from the point towards Rebels goaltender Rylan Toth. After ricocheting off a body or two, the puck took an arc-like path over Toth to tie the game 2-2.
Setting up the rookie blue-liner on the play was rookie pivot Noah Philp.
The 17-year-old native of Canmore registered two assists on the night — the first multi-point effort of his young WHL career — after setting up Kootenay’s first tally of the game, which came courtesy Austin Wellsby.
“I think we’ve just got to realize we can compete with the best when we work,” Philp said following Tuesday’s game. “But it’s all about doing that. You can’t talk the talk. You’ve got to walk the walk and I think we did a pretty good job tonight. Hopefully we can continue that.”
St. Louis Blues prospect Adam Musil opened the scoring 4:12 into the second period, banging a loose puck past Hoflin.
At the other end of the middle period, the Ice found a way to draw things even heading into the second intermission.
After gaining entry into Rebels territory, Philp won a puck battle along the left wall before cycling down low to Wellsby. From there, the 6-foot-3, 184-pound native of Chilliwack used his size to power out of the corner towards the net, before slipping the puck low past Toth. Wellsby’s fourth of the campaign made it a 1-1 game through 40 minutes of play.
The line combination featuring Philp, Wellsby and rookie Max Patterson was effective in Saturday’s loss to the Swift Current Broncos and the same could best said for their efforts Tuesday.
“Those are two guys I can work really well with,” Philp said. “We all have good size, especially those two. I think we can use that to our advantage.”
The play of the young trio has not been lost on coach Pierce as they all registered at plus-2 on the night and each found a way to the scoresheet, with Patterson adding an assist on Wellsby’s goal.
“That’s a really good team and it’s not like they were sheltered, only playing against the fourth line,” Pierce said.
“They created a lot of stuff. That’s a real positive sign in our room right now and as a coaching staff to have a line like that who is going together really well, we just hope we can sustain that.”
Between the pipes, Toth made 29 saves for his 17th win of the season. At the other end, Hoflin made 27 stops on 30 shots.
The reality is Tuesday’s loss goes into the books as the 10th consecutive defeat for the Ice, but the focus remains on the process.
“We’ve had that so many times this year where we’re finding ways to lose, not to win,” Philp said. “It’s frustrating. But it’s all about small steps. You can’t start at the top right away, you’ve got to go through the process.”
Next up, the Ice (6-26-2-0) head to Red Deer for a rematch with the Rebels (22-11-0-0) Friday night before closing out the pre-Christmas schedule with a Saturday night contest in Edmonton against the Oil Kings (13-18-3-0).
Daily Townsman Three Stars1) #15 Noah Philp, Kootenay Ice (2A)2) #31 Rylan Toth, Red Deer Rebels (29 saves)3) #3 Colton Bobyk, Red Deer Rebels (1G, 2A)
Notes: Lost to injury during Tuesday’s proceedings was Ice D Tanner Lishchynsky. His status moving forward remains to be determined… Scratched for the Ice were D Dylan Overdyk (illness), RW Roman Dymacek (lower body, two to four weeks), C Luke Philp (ankle, indefinite), RW Jaedon Descheneau (shoulder, indefinite), C Vince Loschiavo (lower body, two to four weeks) and C Dylan Stewart (head, one week). Deleted from the roster was D Tyler King (1995), who had not played a game in 2015-16 after undergoing off-season knee surgery… The announced attendance in Cranbrook was 1,794…