It’s not too often a goaltender finds himself on the receiving end of a standing ovation when he’s in enemy territory, but Kootenay Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin was given some well-earned recognition for his performance Wednesday night in Kelowna.
Though he didn’t come up with a win, Hoflin was marvellous at Prospera Place, turning aside a whopping 55 shots as he did all he could to give his team a chance in a 4-1 loss to the Kelowna Rockets.
The 20-year-old native of Spruce Grove, Alta., was named the game’s third star for his outstanding efforts and the 4,562 in attendance showed their appreciation as well, giving the rival netminder a standing ovation as he answered his curtain call.
“He did exactly what he’s supposed to do — stop pucks and give us a chance to win hockey games,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, over the phone from Kelowna Wednesday night. “He shouldn’t have to stop that many shots and be that heavily leaned on. But Wyatt approaches the game the same every day. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, he’s always going to work hard. He loves playing against opponents like [the Rockets] and we needed more of that [from other guys].
“He wants that challenge. I’ve got some other guys that I think don’t want to be out there because it’s difficult.”
Unfortunately for the Ice, Hoflin was more or less the lone bright spot.
In a matchup pitting the Western Hockey League’s first-place Rockets (20-6-1-0) against the last-place Ice (6-21-2-0), there was a clear divide as the hosts controlled play for the bulk of the night, outshooting the visitors by a final margin of 59-19.
“That’s a really good hockey team and I think most people probably rise to that challenge and put their best foot out there to try and give people a run for their money,” Pierce said. “A lot of our group [Wednesday] looked intimidated and scared and didn’t use that chance to take a run at a real good hockey team.”
If the challenge wasn’t already great enough for the visitors from Cranbrook, the Rockets were boosted by the return of veteran forward Rourke Chartier (upper body injury), who was back in the lineup for the first time since Oct. 6.
The 5-foot-11 San Jose Sharks prospect (2014 fifth round, 149th) roared back into the Kelowna lineup, marking his return with fireworks as he ripped home three goals to fuel his club’s offense.
The Saskatoon native opened the scoring 7:04 into the first period, before registering a power-play marker 2:25 into the second period to give his team a commanding 3-0 lead.
Less than four minutes later, Chartier completed the hat trick to give the hosts a 4-0 lead before the midpoint of the second period.
As time wound down in the second, it appeared as though the Rockets were going to not only keep the Ice off the scoresheet, but off the shot counter as well.
With the final minute ticking off the clock, Kamloops native Max Patterson cruised down the right wing, firing a long-range shot towards Rockets goaltender Jackson Whistle.
What should’ve been a harmless shot (and Kootenay’s first of the middle period), turned into a fortuitous bounce for the visitors as Whistle booted the puck into defenceman Cal Foote, leading into a ricochet goal for the rookie Patterson. The Ice were on the board trailing 4-1 heading into the third period.
Despite saving their best hockey for the final 20 minutes of regulation, the Ice didn’t get any closer as the Rockets shifted into cruise control the rest of the way.
“Our third period might have been our best period,” Pierce said. “But at that point, I think Kelowna’s just coasting out. It’s hard to find a lot of good things [in our performance].”
The 20-year-old Whistle finished the night with 18 stops for his 15th victory of the season as the Rockets became the first WHL club to reach the 20-win plateau this season.
At the other end, Hoflin faced an absolute barrage of shots in what is becoming a scary trend for the Ice.
Four of the team’s previous five games have seen opponents put a minimum of 43 shots on net. In total, the Ice have surrendered 40 or more shots on eight occasions this season.
“You’ve got to get the puck out of your end,” Pierce said. “It’s the most simple solution. We spend too much time trying to make the fancy play or the cute play.
“We’re not a style team. When you’ve been stuck in your end for 10 or 15 seconds then don’t be afraid to shoot the puck up out of the zone. Get it off the glass. We continue to want to carry or make soft passes and teams are pursuing us really hard.”
Rockets left wing Justin Kirkland rounded out the scoring for the hosts, providing a back-breaking goal with 48 seconds remaining in the first period to give Kelowna a 2-0 advantage.
The season-long, five-game road trip through the B.C. Division continues Friday evening for the Kootenay Ice as they visit the Vancouver Giants (7-16-2-2) before carrying on to face the Victoria Royals (18-8-1-1) Saturday.
Notes: The Ice saw C Shane Allan (four-game suspension) return to the lineup Wednesday… With Allan’s return, the Ice went without D Bryan Allbee (lower body, day to day), D Tyler King (knee), C Luke Philp (ankle), RW Jaedon Descheneau (shoulder), RW Zak Zborosky (lower body) and RW River Beattie (head)…