Christmas came a tad late for Kootenay Ice fans, but none of them were complaining as they were gifted with a 6-4 win over the Lethbridge Hurricanes in their first game back from the holidays.
It was Kootenay’s first victory at Western Financial Place since November 23, when they beat the Red Deer Rebels 6-5 in a shootout, and it included an unbelievable hat-trick performance from leading scorer Zak Zborosky, who put in three goals in a single game for the second time in his career.
“It was [a really special night], especially because it was my first one at the home rink,” said Zborosky, who scored his previous hat-trick in Moose Jaw on January 2, last season. “It’s a lot louder when you score that third one [at home].”
Despite the fantastic individual performance, Zborosky praised the play of his team’s unsung heroes.
“Our depth guys [were great], and so were our defencemen,” he said. “I thought our defencemen were very good at moving pucks tonight and they were battling all night.”
Both teams came out ready to play and besides a few more unprovoked spills than usual, the early goings featured fast, exciting, back-and-forth hockey.
In contrast to their performances before the holiday break, the Ice became stronger as the opening period wore on and potted the game’s first goal seven and a half minutes in when Jake Elmer grabbed a breakaway and beat Stuart Skinner low to take an early lead.
Zak Zborosky doubled the score less than two minutes later, as he potted his 24th of the year with assists from defensemen Cale Fleury and Dallas Hines.
Although the Hurricanes salvaged their dignity with a tally in the last five of the first, with a tally from Brett Davis, the Ice went into the first intermission up a goal and with a huge late fight win courtesy of Barrett Sheen over Ryan Bowen.
The momentum of the fisticuffs served the Ice well and an opening second period shift from the Ice’s energy line resulted in a top-shelf tally from workhorse Tanner Sidaway.
“I didn’t even see how Sheen’s fight happened, by the time I even looked it was over but him playing at that intensity level makes him an extremely effective player and it gave our bench a bit of a spark,” said head coach Luke Pierce. “And then I thought [Sidaway]’s goal early in the second was huge, they were starting to pour it on and had some life, and that was a great start for us [in the second].”
Sidaway, however, was just happy to get a goal.
“It felt really good, it was my first goal since the start of the year so it was good to get another one in,” he said. “[It was crucial] to get our energy going since 2-1 isn’t that big of lead. Once you get to 3-1, it gets the boys going and I was just lucky that I got to put it in.”
While the ‘Canes quickly tied it up off a perfect rush finish from Zane Franklin, Zborosky countered with his second of the night, scoring off his knees in front of the net.
The goal ended Skinner’s night, as he was replaced by backup Ryan Gilchrist. It didn’t matter who was in net for Zborosky however, as he soon put away his hat-trick goal on an Ice power play minutes later.
“I think [Zborosky’s] second and third goals were great efforts but that the goalies would probably want them back,” Pierce said on his leading goal scorer’s night. “But that’s what goal-scorers do, they find ways and it was great for him [to get the hat-trick].
The strike rocketed Zborosky back up to second place in WHL goal-scoring and the goal ended up being the game-winner.
Austin Wellsby would get in on the scoring only a minute later, as a blown tire by ‘Canes defenceman Ty Prefontaine gave him a breakaway in which he made no mistake on the finish.
Despite a pair of goals from Lethbridge captain Tyler Wong at the end of the second frame and midway through the third, and significant 5-on-4, 5-on-3, 6-on-4 and 6-on-5 time for Lethbridge to end the game, the Ice held onto the lead to give their fans an important win.
“It was great, we put [our last home game behind us] and it didn’t come up at all in the room,” Pierce said, referring to the 8-1 loss to the Kamloops Blazers on December 17. “We could’ve made it a little easier on ourselves in that third period but, true to our style, we always try to make things interesting and found a way to hang on.”
The Ice are back in action right away as they have a rematch against the Hurricanes in Lethbridge tonight. The team expects the ‘Canes to come out strong in their home arena and are prepared to play another simple yet effective game.