The kids are on a roll.
With a 5-3 win over the Regina Pats Friday night at Western Financial Place, the young Kootenay Ice have strung together back-to-back wins and points in three consecutive games.
“I know it sounds too simple — but effort from a lot of players, not just select individuals,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, in regards to the biggest difference in his club over this recent stretch. “Guys are understanding there’s different ways to contribute to hockey games.”
A four-goal outburst in the third period for the home team had all those in attendance to their feet.
Ice forward Matt Alfaro tallied twice in the final 20 minutes of play, his second of the night standing as the eventual game-winner and goaltender Wyatt Hoflin was rock solid, making 45 saves to claim his sixth victory of the season.
“We came out flying [in the third period] and even when they scored, we had good responses and good shifts after goals,” Alfaro said Friday. “If you look at all our goals, they were pretty close to the net.”
On the blueline, Tanner Lishchynsky was both steady in his own end and dangerous in the offensive zone. The 20-year-old native of Prince George registered a plus-3 on the night, fuelled by a three-point effort that included his first goal of the season.
“It’s been a long time since I scored,” Lishchynsky said with a smile Friday. “I was happy to get that that one out of the way and help the team win. Any day you score is a good day, so I’m happy.
“We’re just getting a lot more confidence now. Everyone’s starting to work hard. We’ve figured out how to play the game the right way and everyone is coming together. We’re becoming more of a team. All it comes down to is we’re working better and working harder.”
The two teams battled to a 1-1 draw through 40 minutes of play before Alfaro kick-started the third-period press from the Ice.
“It was a neutral zone breakout that kind of broke down,” Alfaro said, recounting his first goal of the night. “Jesse [Zaharichuk] brought it back and gave a nice pass to Zak [Zborosky]. He made a beautiful chip over to me, so it was a good bounce.”
All that was left for the 19-year-old native of Calgary was the lift a backhand shot past Pats 16-year-old rookie goaltender Jordan Hollett and it was a 2-1 lead for the hosts.
Only 33 seconds elapsed before Lishchynsky got in on the action.
The veteran rearguard charged the net off the rush, redirecting an Austin Wellsby shot for a 3-1 advantage.
The visiting Pats responded quickly as Adam Brooks beat Hoflin with a one-timer only 49 seconds later. Brooks’ 22nd of the season sparked some nervous energy in the crowd.
This was a scene all too familiar to many Kootenay Ice faithful. Only eight days earlier, Ice fans watched as a 4-3 third period lead evaporated and the Red Deer Rebels stormed back for a 6-4 triumph late in regulation.
“The way we collapsed [against Red Deer], we were able to sit down and watch that whole seven minutes of hockey and dissect every single play on what not to do and how to manage things emotionally,” Pierce said. “In the past, you’re a house of cards. There’s a goal and it just blows the thing apart. Now we’re starting to put some foundation there where we can handle those things and sustain it.”
Evidently, the Kootenay Ice learned their lesson.
“The past couple games we’ve come up clutch with goals and we’ve found a way to stick around hockey games,” Hoflin said Friday. “Then we’re the team that gets the next one and the next one. In the past, we hung around but other teams were getting the next goal. Right now we’re the ones getting the next goal and that’s big for us.”
Alfaro pounced on a loose puck in the slot for his second of the night to restore the two-goal advantage with 12:35 to go, chasing Hollett in the process.
Still, the Pats weren’t done.
With Cale Fleury serving an interference minor, Colton Kroeker found the back of the net on the power play to once again bring the Pats within one.
With only two minutes remaining in regulation, Wellsby capped what was a quiet, but strong outing as he pounced on his own rebound, poking it past Pats affiliate goaltender Kurtis Chapman to round out the scoring.
By the final buzzer, Wellsby had collected three points, including two assists.
There were multi-point performances all around for the Ice, including Lishchynsky, Jesse Zaharichuk (two assists), Wellsby, Alfaro and Zak Zborosky (two assists).
While the bulk of the action came in the third period, there was no shortage of entertainment in the opening 40 minutes of play.
Early in the second period, Brooks slid in behind the Ice defence for a breakaway opportunity but Hoflin was there to answer, keeping a 1-0 Ice lead in tact.
Shortly after, Ice defenceman Mario Grman was sent off for cross-checking and Hoflin was easily the best penalty killer for the home team, making a handful of big stops to preserve the lead.
In particular, with time winding down on the Pats’ man advantage, star centre Sam Steel hit Lane Zablocki with a gorgeous cross-crease pass that looked to be a surefire goal. Zablocki did everything in his power to get a shot on net without hesitation but Hoflin stretched cross-crease to make an eye-popping split save on the Pats’ winger.
“Seeing the puck well, not guessing, strong positioning,” Hoflin said. “On a couple of those, you just come across and hope it hits you and it did. So it was a good night.”
The Pats finally found a chink in Hoflin’s armour with 5:15 remaining in the second period. Defenceman Connor Hobbs, older brother of Ice goaltender Declan Hobbs, sent a seeing-eye single from the point that wound its way through a maze of legs before finding the back of the net to tie the game 1-1.
After sending a few chances in on Hollett early in the first period, Noah Philp gave the home team a 1-0 edge when he banged home a rebound on the Pats’ doorstep.
By the end of the night, Hollett turned aside 23 shots on 27 attempts before getting the hook. In relief, Chapman made six saves on seven shots for the Pats.
Next up, the Kootenay Ice (8-31-3-0) hit the road Saturday for a one-day trip to Lethbridge. Puck drop between Ice and Hurricanes (29-12-0-0) is slated for 7 p.m. at the Enmax Centre.
The Pats (17-18-3-3) continue south for the second game of a six-game road trip, facing the Spokane Chiefs (19-15-3-2).
Notes: The Ice went without RW Jaedon Descheneau (shoulder, indefinite), RW Austin Gray (undisclosed injury, day to day) and D Jason Wenzel… Ice D Ryan Pouliot, acquired from the Red Deer Rebels in the Luke Philp trade, debuted wearing sweater No. 7… The Pats were without G Tyler Brown (upper body, day to day), D Nikolay Knyzhov, D Colby Williams (upper body, indefinite), LW Sean Richards, D Brady Pouteau and F Brian Williams (undisclosed injury)… The announced attendance in Cranbrook was 1,939…