If you were at Western Financial Place to take in the Kootenay Ice this weekend, chances are you saw two faces of the Western Hockey League club.
Friday night, a young, enthusiastic group outworked the Spokane Chiefs to collect a 5-2 victory — the first career win for new head coach Luke Pierce.
Saturday night, that same young group stood still and admired a more experience Lethbridge Hurricanes squad, en route to a 5-1 loss.
“It was a Jekyll and Hyde, a little bit,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice after Saturday’s defeat. “We didn’t work. [The Hurricanes] were ready to play when they started the game. We talked about how important it was to start well and not dig a hole…We just weren’t ready to play. Our guys stood around watching. I think they were still thinking about how good they were [Friday] and didn’t turn the page over.
“Tonight, we looked like a minor hockey team and that team over there looked like a pro team.”
Saturday’s loss was a tough way to end what started as a promising weekend.
Pierce’s first WHL coaching victory was powered by strong performances from veterans Luke Philp, Jon Martin and Zak Zborosky, as well as a calm, confident start between the pipes from goaltender Keelan Williams.
“It’s just nice to get it out of the way and it’s nice that I thought we earned it,” Pierce said of the Friday win. “I thought our guys played real well, from our goaltender right on out. Our veteran guys kind of led the way, which we need them to do with the group that we have.”
Philp was electric Friday, registering two power-play goals and an assist. Jon Martin combined with Philp to collect a goal and an assist of his own, while Zak Zborosky scored a pair to round out the offense.
“We worked hard in practice on going to the net and rebound shots,” Zborosky said following Friday’s triumph. “I just took what we did in practice and brought it into the games. Turned out I got two goals and it worked out.
“Honestly, all the energy in the room after was awesome. During the game, you could tell we were all up and at it on the bench. The energy was really good. To get that first win out of the way was awesome.”
Williams made 35 saves in his first start of the season, backstopping the Ice to victory.
Saturday’s Hyde-like performance was out of reach for the Ice almost as soon as it began. The Ice dug a hole early and never recovered.
Hurricanes centre Giorgio Estephan opened the scoring Saturday and featured prominently in the visitor’s offense, adding two assists before the night was over.
“Our team’s been playing real well,” said the 6-foot, 190-pound Estephan.
“With moving our feet and getting past the defencemen, moving the puck up the ice gave us a lot of chances tonight and we were able to put it home.
“We see [the Ice] quite a bit throughout the year. It’s nice to get [a win] under the belt. You don’t know what to expect coming from Kootenay.”
The native of Edmonton, Alta., opened the scoring 68 seconds into the first period before setting up Jordy Bellerive for his first-career WHL marker 1:29 later.
Goaltender Declan Hobbs earned the start for the Ice, leaving veteran Wyatt Hoflin in the stands for the second night in a row.
Hobbs made 34 saves and battled right to the end in a losing effort against the Hurricanes, but Pierce said there’s no goaltending controversy afoot in Cranbrook.
“There’s no speculation or controversies with Wyatt Hoflin,” Pierce said. “Wyatt Hoflin is an elite goaltender. We’re fully confident in his ability. With the numbers right now with the 20-year-olds, for us to dress three, we need to keep Wyatt out sometimes. But you’re going to see a big dose of Wyatt Hoflin here real soon. It was important to get both Keelan and Declan into a game early in our season.
“I understand why people would read into it, but there’s nothing there.”
At the other end of the rink, former Ice goaltender Jayden Sittler made 25 saves for his first victory of the season.
Next up, the Ice head out on the road for four games away from Western Financial Place, beginning Tuesday against the Prince Alberta Raiders.
Notes: Ice forward Shane Allan made his WHL debut Friday against the Chiefs… Attendance continues to dwindle at Western Financial Place. Only 2,019 fans took in Friday’s win over Spokane, while a paltry crowd of 1,942 were on hand for Saturday’s loss to Lethbridge. With the season opener against Calgary bringing 2,137 through the door, attendance has dropped each night the Ice have played… Ice D Jason Wenzel did not play either game this weekend as he served a two-game suspension for violating team rules at Mount Baker Secondary School earlier this week…
Daily Townsman Three Stars – Oct. 2:1) C Luke Philp, Kootenay Ice (2G, 1A); 2) RW Zak Zborosky, Kootenay Ice (2G); 3) RW Jon Martin, Kootenay Ice (1G, 1A)
Daily Townsman Three Stars – Oct. 3:1) C Giorgio Estephan, Lethbridge Hurricanes (1G, 2A); 2) G Jayden Sittler, Lethbridge Hurricanes (25 saves); 3) C Jordy Bellerive, Lethbridge Hurricanes (1G, 1A)
Kootenay Ice 5 vs. Spokane Chiefs 2 – Oct. 2, 2015
Kootenay Ice 1 vs. Lethbridge Hurricanes 5 – Oct. 3, 2015