The WHL season is a marathon, not a sprint.
Therefore, while the Kootenay Ice lost their opening two games in a home-and-home series with the Red Deer Rebels, there’s no need to panic.
However, there are some things that Ice head coach Ryan McGill wants to address, in light of their 4-2 home loss and 6-3 road defeat.
“We need to work on a lot of things,” said McGill. “We have not been consistent, we don’t follow the game plan and we are giving up way too many opportunities and shots in the third period of games.”
It was two third-period collapses that sunk the Ice in both games, as Kootenay gave up two goals in the space of eight seconds on Friday, while allowing a pair in 36 seconds on Saturday evening.
Opening to 2,399 fans at Western Financial Place on Friday, the Ice were more organized at first, before the Rebels woke up and began an effective counter attack, which culminated in the 4-2 Red Deer victory.
Sam Reinhart and Jagger Dirk supplied the offence for Kootenay, while Haydn Fleury, Grayson Pawlenchuk, Adam Musil, and Lukas Sutter provided the goals for Red Deer.
Mackenzie Skapski made 38 saves in net, while reigning CHL goaltender of the year, Patrik Bartosak, stopped 32 pucks.
Kootenay got off to a better start, and Reinhart got the team on the board within the first four minutes on a play that went to review before it was officially called a goal.
Landon Peel slap-passed the puck to Levi Cable at the backdoor, who fed it to Reinhart in front of the net. The Kootenay Ice captain shovelled away, and the biscuit disappeared under Bartosak’s pads, as the whistle blew the play dead. However, the puck had crossed the goal line underneath the equipment and it was ruled a good goal.
“I was thinking shot, but then I heard Sammy across the ice, and just tried to get it in an area for him, ‘cause he’s a really skilled player, and went with that,” Peel said.
Reinhart said he put the puck in the net once he got it on his stick.
“Cable got it across from Peeler, and he saw me open in front and I just tried to get it on net as quick as possible and it kind of snuck in and went under the padding a bit,” Reinhart said.
Red Deer evened things up just over a minute later, wristing a shot from the point that redirected past Skapski’s shoulder. Adam Musil, brother of Oilers prospect David Musil, and son of retired NHLer Frank Musil, picked up his first-career WHL point on the play with an assist.
Before the halfway mark of the opening period, Kootenay pulled ahead again, when Dirk one-timed a sweet behind-the-net feed from Jaedon Descheneau.
The two teams played each other to a draw in the second period, but Bartosak, on his stomach, robbed Descheneau with an outstretched glove, while Peel fanned on a backdoor feed that looked like a sure goal.
Pawlenchuk, who left the second period leaking blood onto the ice after a hit from Tanner Faith, returned to beat Skapski up high on an odd-man rush less than a minute into the final frame.
Eight seconds later, Musil stole the puck in Kootenay’s defensive zone and chipped a shot up high over Skapski’s glove.
Sutter rounded out the scoring, one-timing Rhyse Dieno’s pass from behind the net on the powerplay.
Kootenay was shut out in three powerplay opportunities, while Red Deer scored one goal in five chances with the man-advantage.
The Ice headed into Red Deer hoping to avenge that loss, however, another third period collapse was in store.
Once again, Kootenay jumped out to an early lead, but the Rebels pulled ahead in the final frame.
“We jumped out to a 2-0 lead, and then we decided to stray from the program,” said McGill.
“…We didn’t have as good a third period as we would’ve liked. Made some real bad mental errors from our defencemen and some critical errors in the bottom half of our lineup.”
Reinhart and O’Connor put the Ice ahead early, before Brooks Maxwell and Sutter knotted things up after the first period. Both teams traded goals in the second period—Luke Philp for Kootenay, and Gaudet for Red Deer.
Musil and Dieno scored two quick goals in the third frame and Bellerive potted the empty netter for a 6-3 final score.
Skapski made 35 saves in goal for the Ice, while Bartosak turned away 29 shots.
Both teams had four powerplays, and both scored once with the man-advantage.