Call it a parting gift.
The Kootenay Ice gave their fans plenty of reason to cheer on Sunday afternoon, as they beat the Red Deer Rebels 5-4 in overtime in their final home game until November 10.
Looking to stop the emotional-win-followed-by-disappointing-loss cycle, the Ice came to play in the matinee affair and according to head coach James Patrick showed superb resiliency.
“Overall, the game had some ups and downs,” Patrick said. “We played smart hockey to get the 3 – 1 lead, [but] I think we’re still a bit of an immature team, in that when we get leads like that, we decide to change our game.
“Our puck management was not very good for half of the second period, [but] I thought we matched up [well] for the most part. I liked the effort [and] I liked the resilience for probably 45 minutes of the 60.”
Picking up an early lead, the Ice allowed the Rebels back into the game and even fell behind in the last three minutes of the game. Thanks to a composed shift from the team’s top line, however, Kootenay tied the night right back up and ended up winning in overtime.
The veterans shined in the victory, with Colton Kroeker picking up a goal and three assists, Alex Baer getting an assist and the game-tying goal and Cale Fleury scoring two goals, including the game-winner.
“We don’t have the first-round NHL draft picks or the guys that, a lot of people in the league feel, are superstars,” Patrick said. “[But] I think Baer and Kroeker are our two best [forwards] and [with] Fleury on defence, those three guys [played great].
“If we can compete with a team as good as Red Deer, we should be able to compete with anyone in the East.”
It didn’t take Fleury long to make his mark in the game. Just a minute into the first period, the captain jammed home a rebound that beat 16-year-old goalie Byron Fancy, who was making his first WHL start.
Seven minutes later though, the Rebels beat Kurtis Chapman as Chris Douglas took a shot off the rush that found the back of the net.
Not to be outdone, Cameron Hausinger retook the lead with a deflection of defenceman Zac Patrick’s point shot and allowed the team to go into the first intermission with a 2-1 lead.
While Colton Kroeker scored early in the second off a feed from Baer, the Ice regressed slightly in the latter half of the frame.
“I didn’t like it for a spell and there was a lot of frustration on the bench,” Patrick said. “It was self induced and we were all involved… [I told the guys] ‘we’re all guilty of this’, so it’s not pointing the finger at one guy. [I said], ‘just look at yourself and see where you can be better.’”
Czech-import Kristian Reichel and Austin Pratt took advantage of the Ice’s lapse and scored a pair of quick goals to tie up the game.
Despite an improved third period, bolstered by a fight from 16-year-old Zac Patrick against defenceman Hunter Donohoe,the Ice came close to losing the game.
Taking a bounce off Sam Huston’s stick, Rebels forward Reese Johnson scored his fifth of the year to give his team a lead with less than three minutes to go.
Returning the favour from earlier, Kroeker found Baer in front of the Red Deer net a minute later and the Ice tied the game, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
“When they scored, we maybe dropped a little bit, but me and [Kroeker] and our line played really [well] all night,” Baer said. “We weren’t too worried. We just went out and played the way we played all night. Something good was bound to happen and it did at the right time.”
In overtime, Baer used his defensive abilities to give the game another turning point, as a hard backcheck drew a Red Deer penalty and earned the Ice a 4-on-3 advantage.
After coming close several times with a relentless attack, the team finally put an end to the game with six seconds left in the man advantage as Fleury wired home his second of the night off a blast assisted by Kroeker and Baer.
“I was happy with the fact that we kept possession for a long time [in overtime],” Patrick said. “I think we earned the call to give us the power play [and then] we had some good looks, which is all you can ask for.
“We got a break there at the end where there was a little collision and we didn’t know if they were going to make a call [and] we ended up getting the puck back, took possession, got it over to Cale who got [off] a great shot.”
Coming into the game, the Rebels were fresh off back-to-back nights of overtime wins, but the Ice used Red Deer’s fatigue to their advantage.
“[Our focus] was just [to] keep moving our feet,” Baer said. “They had [just played] 3-in-3, so we knew they were going to be a little bit tired. They had a rush at the end and took a penalty, so we knew we had a chance to capitalize, and we did.”
With the win, the Ice are now 7-7-1-0 and in third place in the Central Division, two points behind the division-leading Rebels.
“I think our team is even better than our record [shows],” Baer said of cracking a .500 winning percentage. “A couple of simple mistakes have lost us games, but we’ve got young guys and old guys that are maturing every day, so I think we’re only going to get better.”
Hausinger agreed and said the team is getting more confident as the year progresses.
“I think we come into [each] game and we want to win,” said the game’s first star who had a goal and an assist. “I know we can play with anyone in the league and beat anyone in the league.”
According to Patrick, who did not set any specific goals at the start of the season except to get better every day, the team is firmly on track.
“As a team, I know we’re better than we were two months ago — no doubt,” the coach said. “It doesn’t always happen game by game because we have taken a step forward and then a couple back … consistency, to do it every shift and play the right way all the time, [is] still [an area that I] think we have a ways to go [though].”
With 22 saves on 26 shots, Chapman picked up his second straight victory and his fourth of the season. The 1998-born Airdrie, Alberta native has a 3.54 goals against average and 0.884 save percentage in 8 games played.
After going 3-1 over their four-game homestand, the team is now headed on a three-game road trip. The Ice play the Pats in Regina on Wednesday and then have a back-to-back series against the Wheat Kings in Brandon on Saturday and Sunday.
ICE CHIPS: After his four-point night, Colton Kroeker is leading the team in scoring with 17 points in 15 games. Newly acquired goaltender Duncan McGovern served as the team’s backup for a second straight game on Sunday, with Bailey Brkin spending time in the press box. McGovern has not yet seen any icetime with Kootenay during a game.
1st Period-1, Kootenay, Fleury 4 (Taphorn, Kroeker), 1:09. 2, Red Deer, Douglas 2 (Donohoe, Schuldhaus), 8:00. 3, Kootenay, Hausinger 2 (Patrick, King), 10:56. Penalties-Bodak Ktn (hooking), 2:45; Schuldhaus Rd (hooking), 12:40; Patrick Ktn (high sticking), 17:56.
2nd Period-4, Kootenay, Kroeker 7 (Baer, Hausinger), 6:53. 5, Red Deer, Reichel 5 (Hagel, Alexeyev), 12:20. 6, Red Deer, Pratt 4 (Pawlenchuk, Schuldhaus), 14:24. Penalties-Reichel Rd (holding), 10:08.
3rd Period-7, Red Deer, Johnson 5 (Schuldhaus, Alexeyev), 17:39. 8, Kootenay, Baer 4 (Kroeker, Taphorn), 18:09. Penalties-Donohoe Rd (major-fighting), 6:42; Herauf Rd (roughing), 6:42; Patrick Ktn (major-fighting), 6:42.
OT Period-9, Kootenay, Fleury 5 (Kroeker, Baer), 2:27 (PP). Penalties-Alexeyev Rd (interference), 0:33.
Shots on Goal-Red Deer 10-11-5-0-26. Kootenay 8-6-10-3-27.
Power Play Opportunities-Red Deer 0 / 2; Kootenay 1 / 4.
Goalies-Red Deer, Fancy 0-0-1-0 (27 shots-22 saves). Kootenay, Chapman 4-3-0-0 (26 shots-22 saves).