Kootenay Ice head coach Luke Pierce struggled to find words Thursday night.
And who could blame him?
There are only so many answers for a coach tasked with trotting out a short-handed lineup night in and night out in the ultra-competitive Western Hockey League.
On the backend of two games in two nights, Pierce’s Ice (6-18-2-0) looked exhausted and the host Lethbridge Hurricanes (15-9-0-0) made sure to get two points out of it, cruising to a 9-0 victory at the Enmax Centre.
“There’s not a lot [to say] other than we’re not going to stop trying,” Pierce said over the phone Thursday. “I’m not going to stop coaching. Our players can’t stop playing. I don’t think we emptied our tanks. Yeah, we looked tired, but I think there’s still more there to give.
“You have to recognize [the injury situation]. Fatigue plays a factor. We played a good team [Wednesday] and we made the game a lot harder than it’s supposed to be. Same thing [Thursday] — we made the game harder at times than it had to be.
“When you’re as outnumbered as we are and with the types of players we’re missing, you have to really be smart. We made it too much of a challenge.”
The Hurricanes made collecting two points look like less than a challenge Thursday as nine different goal scorers found the back of the net.
Left wing Barrett Sheen opened the scoring in the first period before a four-goal outburst in the second period put the game out of reach for the visitors with the Hurricanes taking a 5-0 advantage to the dressing room through 40 minutes.
Insult was added to injury in the third period as the hosts tallied four more goals while keeping the Ice from registering so much as a single shot on goal.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, half of the Hurricanes skaters each tallied a goal, while only three were left without a single point.
In order, the nine goal scorers that followed Sheen were Brayden Burke, Giorgio Estephan, Justin Gutierrez, Tyler Wong, Cory Millette, Arvin Atwal, Carter Folk and Brett Davis.
Thursday night, the victim of the onslaught was rookie goaltender Declan Hobbs, who faced 48 shots as he remained between the pipes for the full 60 minutes.
“It was 100 per cent my call [to leave Hobbs in the net],” Pierce said. “Looking back on it, it was probably the wrong decision.
“I want to protect Declan same as you hope to protect some of your other young players. I spoke with Declan after the second period — he’s a competitor — you can tell he wants to stay in the game. I just told him, ‘You’re going to have to battle through this.’ It’s a character test no different than it is for any of our other young guys.
“I’m not concerned about Declan. He’s such a strong-willed kid. He knows that nothing that went on [Thursday] is his fault.”
At the other end of the rink, Hurricanes goaltender Stuart Skinner turn aside 18 shots for his first shutout of the season.
Wednesday night against the division-leading Red Deer Rebels, the Ice went forth with only 10 forwards, one of which was affiliate player Connor Barley.
Thursday proved no different.
Pierce maintains injuries are no excuse. But they can’t be overlooked when analyzing the outcome.
“We don’t want to use it as an excuse, but you’ve got young guys — first-year players — that you’re trying to develop and protect,” Pierce said. “They’re out there playing against some of the best players in our league right now. It’s not easy for them. You try and do your best to encourage them and stay positive, but you just hope they come out on the other side unscathed.”
“We’ll see their responses as we go along here. If they can keep their chins up and keep showing up to work and keep trying to get better — great. Down the road is going to come and they’ll be able to look back on it and say this made them better. But if they cower in the face of this adversity and challenge, it could be a real short career.”
As it stands, the Ice remain without the services of defencemen Tyler King (knee) and Jason Wenzel (head), along with forwards Luke Philp (ankle), Jaedon Descheneau (shoulder), Shane Allan (four-game suspension), Zak Zborosky (lower body) and River Beattie (head).
The next challenge for Pierce and the Ice comes Saturday night when the Hurricanes make the trip west to Cranbrook for the second game of a home-and-home.
“You wake up tomorrow and the sun comes back up,” Pierce said. “You figure out how you’re going to get through the day.
“We have to continue to coach, find ways to be better, simplify our game and help our players. We can’t keep feeding them to the wolves. We have to give them some different looks that are going to help them be more successful.”
Puck drop between the Hurricanes and Ice is slated for 7 p.m. on College Night at Western Financial Place.