Before heading out on the road this past weekend, Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill said his team just needed to get points. Earning a split of the weekend’s Central Division road games ensured the Ice did just that.
The Ice defeated the Red Deer Rebels 5-3 Friday night before falling 3-1 to the Edmonton Oil Kings Saturday.
“Friday, I thought we were an opportunistic team,” McGill said Sunday afternoon. “Our goaltending was excellent.
“Our second period — we get outshot 21-7 — we relied way too much on our goalie. When Red Deer turned the puck over, I thought we took advantage of their mistakes.”
After Levi Cable opened the scoring in the first period, the Ice rattled off three goals in the second period, chasing Rebels starting goaltender Rylan Toth and taking a 4-1 advantage into the dressing room at the second intermission.
Ice forward Jon Martin played lights-out against the Rebels, earning a pair of goals in the second period, including the eventual game-winner, as well as an assist.
“We need secondary scoring here in the second half [of the season] so it’s good to see,” McGill said of Martin’s play. “Hopefully he can continue to play with a physical presence and those opportunities will keep coming.”
Martin’s two tallies pushed him to six goals on the season after missing 15 of his team’s first 22 games due to an upper-body injury.
Including a two-goal performance in Kootenay’s season opener Sept. 19 in Red Deer, the 19-year-old native of Winnipeg has scored two-thirds of his goals this season against the Rebels.
Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin, despite a heavy workload that has seen him start a franchise-record 28 consecutive games, made 38 saves for the victory.
In Edmonton Saturday night, things didn’t go quite to plan for the Ice.
“It’s our fifth game in eight nights. Your best players have to be your best players,” McGill said. “I didn’t think we put enough pucks to the net against a goaltender that’s world-class like [Tristan] Jarry. We were way too cute.
“In saying that, we were still in the game towards the end, but you have to create momentum from the beginning of the game and not at the end of the game. We didn’t really create any kind of momentum or any sort of push in the second half of the game.”
Jarry was a difference-maker Saturday, stopping 32 of the 33 shots he faced. Outside the play of the Oil Kings netminder, the Ice let opportunity slip away, going 0-for-7 on the power play in Edmonton.
Including Friday’s win in Red Deer, the Ice were blanked on the man advantage this weekend, finishing 0-for-11.
“I attribute that to execution and not being crisp,” McGill said of the power play. “We didn’t move the puck the way we can. We were way too lethargic and way too methodical. When that happens, you’re way too predictable.”
Matt Alfaro tallied the only goal for the Ice Saturday in Edmonton. Including two assists Friday in Red Deer, the Calgary native contributed to the secondary scoring his coach is looking for.
“He is starting to understand that intangibles will give him success and that’s face-offs, puck protection, moving pucks and getting to the hard areas,” McGill said of Alfaro. “When he’s done that, he’s had success.
“Hopefully this is a big confidence booster for him and he can continue on that path.”
With the weekend shaking out as it did, the WHL’s Central Division remains a logjam from second through fifth place. The Rebels (21-14-3-2, 47 points) continue to hold down second place while the Calgary Hitmen (21-15-1-2, 45) nip at the heels of their Alberta rival. Hot on the tail of the Hitmen are the fourth-place Ice (21-18-0-1, 43) and Oil Kings (19-16-3-2, 43).
The Ice get another chance to make up ground on Red Deer as the Rebels visit Western Financial Place Friday at 7 p.m.