The Kootenay Ice closed out the 2014 WHL pre-season Sunday afternoon, falling 4-1 to the Calgary Hitmen in Crowsnest Pass, Alta.
The Hitmen used a three-goal outburst over a three-minute span early in the first period to seal the fate of the Ice, taking advantage of a shaky Wyatt Hoflin.
“I’m sure Wyatt would like to have two, maybe three out of the four [goals] back, for sure,” said Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill Sunday afternoon. “I thought we had some okay looks in their zone, but we need to be way more competitive on loose pucks.
“If we’re way more competitive in one-on-one situations, if you exclude some of those goals against that were quickly off the bat, I think we’re right there.”
Compete level has been a common concern for McGill as his squad navigated through pre-season play. After suffering three consecutive losses in Kennewick, Wa. last weekend, the coach wanted to see more hunger from his boys through practice this past week. According to assistant coach Jay Henderson, the coaching staff was happy with what they saw heading into this weekend’s pre-season wrap in the Crowsnest Pass.
“It’s a learning curve, it’s a process,” McGill said his team’s compete level. “We’ve got guys coming back from pro camp and they understand what’s expected from them.
“We’ll evaluate the five [pre-season] games and who we think is the best group of 18 skaters will play on Friday night [against the Red Deer Rebels]. We’re going to have some extra bodies around and that hopefully brings out the competitiveness of the group.”
Calgary defenceman Jake Bean started the barrage 4:17 into the opening frame. On the very next shift, forward Landon Welykhowa piled on 33 seconds later, knocking a rebound past Hoflin for a 2-0 Hitmen advantage.
To make matters worse, Ice defenceman Dylan Overdyk was sent off for hooking less than two minutes after Welykhowa’s marker. It didn’t take long for the Hitmen to cash in. Veteran forward Mike Winther delivered one final crushing blow, skating in all alone and depositing the puck past a helpless Hoflin.
The Ice appeared to recover a bit of momentum after forward Austin Wellsby jammed home a rebound on the man advantage while Hitmen forward Pavel Karnaukhov sat for tripping. The goal was Wellsby’s second of the pre-season.
Just as quickly as Kootenay jumped on the board, Calgary restored the three-goal gap. Karnaukhov made up for his earlier blunder by tallying his fourth goal of the pre-season to give the Hitmen a 4-1 lead a little more than two minutes after Wellsby’s marker.
Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin didn’t look comfortable through the first 20 minutes, but eventually settled in. The native of Spruce Grove, Alta. turned aside 12 of 16 shots Sunday afternoon.
At the other end of the rink, 18-year-old Evan Johnson went the distance between the pipes for Calgary. The Winnipeg native was nearly perfect, stopping 24 of the 25 shots he faced. It was Johnson’s fourth appearance of the post-season. With a 1.67 goals-against average and three wins to his credit, it would appear Johnson has secured himself a spot between the pipes in Calgary.
Though he didn’t find a way on to the scoresheet, Moscow native Alexander Chirva was a noticeable presence on the ice Sunday for Kootenay. The 18-year-old forward finished checks, danced with the puck and drove the net hard.
“He’s getting there,” McGill said of the 33rd overall selection from the 2014 CHL Import Draft. “I think he can shoot the puck more. Today was a really good sign of him getting involved and now we just need to get him inside the dots in the offensive zone.
“He’s improved all through camp.”
After playing two games in three days, the Ice will take Monday off before returning to the rink in preparation for the opening of the WHL regular season.
The Ice close out the 2014 WHL pre-season having collected a record of 1-4-0, the only victory coming Friday night over the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Forward Luke Philp, who is in London, Ont. at Toronto Maple Leafs rookie camp, led the team in scoring, firing home four goals and five points in two games.
With eight players currently attending NHL training camps and 22 bodies on the active roster, the Ice are not expected to make any immediate personnel changes. According to McGill, the team’s hockey operations staff will meet as players are re-assigned to Cranbrook from their respective NHL camps. As that happens, decisions will be made as to who stays and who heads elsewhere.
The Kootenay Ice open the 2014 WHL regular season Friday, Sept. 19 when they visit the Red Deer Rebels at the ENMAX Centrium. The team will then travel to Edmonton to face the Oil Kings Sept. 20. Both games are scheduled for 7 p.m.