Kootenay Ice forward Keenan Taphorn is guarded closely by Calgary Hitmen forward Andrew Fyten during their game on January 28

Kootenay Ice forward Keenan Taphorn is guarded closely by Calgary Hitmen forward Andrew Fyten during their game on January 28

‘Second period blues’ sink Kootenay Ice against Hitmen

Team blows an early lead, get blown out by arch-rivals in disappointing end to home stand.

It’s been a roller coaster week for the Kootenay Ice, and they went off the rails last night.

After earning a 3-2 victory on Friday — bouncing back from a 8-1 loss on Tuesday —  the Ice lost 8-3 to the Calgary Hitmen to close out their homestand on Saturday.

According to coach Luke Pierce, the only redeeming part of the team’s game was their opening 20 minutes.

“I thought our first period was really good [but we got] the second period blues again,” Pierce said. “It’s a lesson to be learned for our young leadership group […] we got too caught up in the success of our [start] and didn’t refocus enough.”

The Ice’s night didn’t start out under the best of circumstances. They were forced to play with only five defencemen and 11 forwards following the previous night’s injury to Noah Philp and the addition of captain Cale Fleury to the CHL’s Top Prospects game in Quebec City.

To make matters worse, Kootenay picked up a penalty in the first minute of the game and were roasted by Hitmen forward Matteo Gennaro on the ensuing man advantage.

Despite the setback, the Ice were strong early on and took advantage of their first two power play chances with a pair of goals from their top unit of Vince Loschiavo, Brett Davis, Colton Kroeker, Max Patterson and Dallas Hines.

“We were moving the puck around well and Kroeker made some unbelievable passes,”  Loschiavo said on their success with the extra man. “At the end of the day [though] you have to be [good] 5-on-5 [too].”

Loschiavo and Davis were the beneficiaries of the hot power play, and their two goals were enough to take the team into the second period with a 2-1 lead and feeling good.

That positivity quickly escaped the Ice however, as Davis picked up a high-sticking penalty off the opening faceoff and the Hitmen converted another power play goal, this time from Jakob Stukel.

The goal set off a chain-reaction with Luke Coleman and Andrew Fyten quickly adding to the lead and making it a 4-2 game by the midway point of the second period.

While Pierce said that the early power play was unfortunate, he thought that the team’s response to adversity in the middle frame was not at the level it needed to be.

“They capitalized on their first [power play], which got us on our heels, but we responded, ” Pierce said. “It was a tough break, but you’ve got to get over it.”

Calgary’s Tyler Mrkonjic added another goal in the middle of the period, giving the Ice a three-goal deficit as they entered the final intermission.

An early 5-on-3 chance in the final frame gave Kootenay some life as Vince Loschiavo put in a low wrister from the point, but Calgary continued to be the better team to close out the game.

Gennaro added another power play goal before Beck Malenstyn and Mark Kastelic got on the scoresheet as the Hitmen finalized their blowout.

A night after his first Cranbrook win, rookie Jakob Walter was torched for 7 goals on 27 shots before Payton Lee stepped in for 10 minutes of relief. While Pierce admitted it wasn’t Walter’s best night, he did not hold goaltending responsible for the loss.

“We didn’t give [Walter] much help [and] he didn’t see a lot of the pucks they shot,” Pierce said. “If we’re going to take away our goalies eyes, we’d better make sure we’re going to block it [but] I think we had a season-low number of shot blocks today.”

“That was unacceptable. You’re trying to help your goalie build some momentum and get in a groove, and we didn’t give him [enough] help.”

Loschiavo, one of the team’s alternate captains, put a lot of the blame for the poor performance on his own shoulders.

“We looked like a different team after that first period and [had too many] turnovers,” he said. “My line wasn’t good at all, especially 5-on-5.”

All three of the Ice’s goals on Friday came on the power play, finishing the night 3/6 with the man advantage. Their penalty kill was only successful once, with the Hitmen scoring 3/4 on their own power plays.

“[Our] power play was good, but I didn’t like the way we went through the motions late in the game,” Pierce said. “I don’t care what the score is, [if] you’ve got an opportunity to get out there and play in special teams, you’re supposed to be a special player.

“[There was too much] coasting when it was 8-3, which is unacceptable [and] will be corrected.”

While both Loschiavo and Pierce acknowledge the huge hole that Fleury left, being the number one defenceman and leader of the team, neither were willing to let it be an excuse for the loss.

“[We were] missing [arguably] our best player and that’s going to have an impact on any team,” Pierce said. “We just aren’t efficient enough […] we looked tired, fatigued and had trouble putting passes together as the game went along.”

The Ice are back in action on Tuesday night in Medicine Hat for the first of a home-and-home against the Tigers. After losing 8-1 this Tuesday to the Tigers, the team is expecting a much better effort in the series.

“The last time we played them, we had a good first period,” Loschiavo said on the upcoming matchup. “We have to continue that, because we can’t let what happened last time, or tonight, happen again.”