If there’s one constant in hockey, it’s that a game is 60 minutes long.
Or longer, if there’s overtime.
The Kootenay Ice, however, tapped out before the final buzzer for the second straight night and as has become the trend for them, they didn’t need to worry about overtime.
Just a day removed from blowing a 3-1 lead in Medicine Hat and losing 4-3, the Ice were bested once again by the Tigers thanks to a monstrous third period collapse. In under a minute near the midway point of the final frame, the Ice’s deficit went from 3-2 to 6-2.
While that portion of the game is easy to point to as the turning point, head coach Luke Pierce wasn’t pleased with his team’s effort from the get-go.
“I didn’t think we had enough intensity from the start,” Pierce said at the end of the night. “We had some spurts when we had momentum from goals, but you can’t rely on goals to generate momentum.”
Captain Cale Fleury shared his coach’s view, pointing out that while there were external factors at play, they have to put the blame on their own shoulders.
“I think we came out a little slow, maybe [it’s] because we had a late bus trip last night, but that’s not an excuse for it,” Fleury said. “We need to come out harder than that. We were fortunate that we were still in it towards the third.”
The Tigers opened the scoring just a minute into the game with forward Max Gerlach finding the back of the net off a feed from James Hamblin.
Although the Ice became more competitive as the period wore on, and generated some good pressure on a power play opportunity, they went into the first intermission down by a goal.
Gerlach and Hamblin, who both put up multi-point nights in their last visit to Cranbrook, continued their hot play and assisted Mark Rassell on a goal midway through the second period.
The back-door feed from Gerlach to Rassell left Payton Lee, who was superb all night in the Kootenay net, without a chance at stopping the puck.
Despite the hole, the Ice were given a chance to get back into the game after the Tigers ran into penalty trouble in the latter half of the frame.
The top man advantage unit for Kootenay gave the team their first goal with just under three minutes to go in the frame, as Vince Loschiavo found Brett Davis in front of the net.
Davis sliced the puck past Michael Bullion for his fifth goal in four games and sent the Ice into the final break with momentum.
The top line came out with plenty of life in the third, and less than two minutes in Loschiavo took advantage of a turnover in the Tigers’ defensive zone and smashed Bullion’s water bottle with a perfect high wrister.
The tie game was short-lived, however, and the Tigers restored their lead with an ugly crash-the-net goal that was credited to Hamblin.
Remaining competitive, the Ice were only down a goal until around the twelve-minute mark when Fleury retaliated with a slash to an elbow from Chad Butcher and the teams went to four-on-four.
A speedy and skilled team, the Tigers not only took advantage of the situation once, but three times, with goals from Matt Bradley, Gerlach and Gary Haden.
While playing four-a-side isn’t a situation the Ice generally prepare for, Pierce felt their struggle to keep up with Medicine Hat represented larger issues.
“It’s communication, it’s intensity [and we got] outworked,” he said. “ We talked about it before the game and [if we played] skill versus skill, we’re not going to win that matchup. That’s not a shot against our players I have a lot of respect for their abilities, but from a will standpoint that’s where you have to make sure that you have more than they do. And, we didn’t.
“You give up the first one on the four on four and you need to respond and have a bit of a momentum building sequence there and just survive it. It just snowballed on us [and] that’s another learning lesson for our group.”
Pierce believes the team is lacking contributions from the middle of their lineup. While the top line is scoring as much as they should be expected to — Loschiavo has 9 points in his last four games, Davis has seven, and Colton Kroeker has five — and the energy line is providing hits, the coach isn’t seeing enough from a lot of his lineup.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that really haven’t contributed,” Pierce said. “I’ve got no issue with people who don’t contribute offensively, but you better bring something and there’s a lot of guys that I don’t know what they’re doing for us right now.
“It’s a dangerous situation when you get to rely on one line of guys to score all of your goals. We need to find contributions from other people. There are some guys who wanted more opportunity, wanted more ice time and that’s all well and good, but now show me what you’ve done with it.”
According to the coach, the stats speak for themselves especially when it comes to body check totals.
“You’ve got Cale Fleury with eight hits, Dallas Hines with seven and you’ve got Kaeden and Keenan Taphorn with seven and six,” Pierce said. “We can’t have the physical element of our game being brought by 16-year-olds […] the compete and the intensity level, a lot of nights, come from Michael King and the twins and that’s scary.
“It’s bright for our future, but it’s scary for right now.”
With a game at home against the Moose Jaw Warriors on Friday night, the Ice don’t have too much time to get their act together, but Loschiavo believes that their success rides on Thursday’s practice.
“We need to have a really good practice [on Thursday],” Loschiavo said. “We have to work hard and be prepared because Moose Jaw is a good team and we can’t take time off today like we did in the third.”
Pierce is also placing a high amount of value on their practice and has clear goals in mind.
“The emphasis [of practice] is going to be on competing,” he said. I was hard pressed to find a body check today that was worthy of being considered a WHL body check […] I expect [the team] to show up in an angry mood and go after one another a little bit.
“If it hurts us going into Friday, cause we’re a little banged up and tired and sore, so be it. At some point, we have to learn the lesson.”
Puck drop between the Ice and Warriors will go at 7 p.m. at Western Financial Place on Friday.