It’s been awhile since Zak Zborosky was nervous before a hockey game.
On Sunday afternoon, however, in his return to Cranbrook for the first time since being traded to the Lethbridge Hurricanes in January, he definitely had some butterflies.
Finishing the game with a 6-4 win, while scoring two goals and picking up an assist, he couldn’t have asked for a better night.
“I had nerves and excitement all at the same time,” Zborosky said following the game. “I was a little curious how it was going to go tonight [and] I’m glad it worked out.”
At the WHL trade deadline, Zborosky and Matt Alfaro — both 20-year-olds who had spent their entire careers with Kootenay — were sent to the ‘Canes in exchange for Colton Kroeker and Brett Davis.
Since their arrival, Kroeker and Davis have played exceptionally for the Ice. Heading into the game, they had a combined 29 points in 13 games with the Ice.
For their part, Zborosky and Alfaro had also been putting up points for their new club. Zborosky had 6 goals and 10 assists in 14 games, Alfaro had 2 goals and 3 assists in 9 games, and the ‘Canes had only lost one game in regulation since their arrival.
With Kroeker and Davis lining up with their opposing pairs’ former linemate, Vince Loschiavo, and Zborosky and Alfaro playing with Tyler Wong, the game was ready to explode before the opening puck drop.
It was the Ice’s new guys who struck first.
Getting off to a hot start, Colton Kroeker beat ‘Canes rookie goalie Adam Swan just a minute into the game off a give-and-go feed from linemate Brett Davis.
Seven minutes later, the pair combined again with Kroeker batting home a Davis rebound to put them up 2-0 at the midway point of the opening frame.
“I wanted to have a good game, especially against my old team,” Kroeker said on his second straight two-goal night. “It was a lot of fun. I’ve been through it before, [but] I don’t know about nervous, but it was exciting.”
Then, it was the old Kootenay guards’ turn.
Alfaro found Zborosky on a rush minutes later, and he made no mistake on his 35th goal of the season beating Jakob Walter low.
On a power play chance a minute later, Zborosky scored again with a deflection off Wong’s long distance shot.
“I don’t know if [Kroeker] scoring fired me up,” Zborosky said. “I think just playing against your old team, you don’t want to lose.
“I feel good for those guys for producing, but when you’re down 2-0, I didn’t care who had scored … I’m [just] glad we got back into the game and won.
After Zborosky and Kroeker traded pairs of goals, the period had a wild finish.
Josh Tarzwell gave the Hurricanes a lead with a goal off a face-off in the Ice’s defensive zone with less than four minutes to go.
The Ice’s top line then combined again with Loschiavo finishing off a tic-tac rush with Kroeker, and Egor Babenko walked in and put Lethbridge up 4-3 with only 15 seconds left to go.
In the second period, Zborosky assisted Wong’s eventual game-winning goal which ended Walter’s night as he was replaced by Payton Lee for the remainder of the game.
Lee was brilliant in his relief effort, making 33 saves on 34 shots in less than 33 minutes, but was hung out to dry on a poor shorthanded effort in which Ryan Vandervlis was left completely alone in front of the net for a tap-in.
Head coach Luke Pierce was very disheartened by the goal.
“It [was] painful to see it happening for awhile and yelling from the bench that there’s a guy coming and he had way too much time there,” Pierce said. “We didn’t finish a check … we swung, we wanted to make the easy play and keep up our momentum.
“You do that stuff when you’re playing in beer league. You’ve got your whole life to play beer league hockey. If you want to play real hockey, you’ve got to stop and start, and finish checks.”
While Kaeden Taphorn would score a goal in the latter half of the middle frame, from linemates Keenan Taphorn and Michael King, the Ice were unable to get back in the game.
Despite a refocused effort from the Ice in the third period, the game ended as a 6-4 win for Lethbridge.
“The way we started that third period, that’s exactly how we should’ve played the whole night,” Pierce said. “I guess there’s a way to learn from that. That was our opportunity to beat them. The next time [we] play them, if they’re fresh and they’re healthy, they’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
While Pierce enjoyed parts of the team’s game and thought they had a great start, he’s still hoping to see more out of his group.
“[We] capitalized on the chances [we had early but] I think you have to be smart enough to realise that it’s time to batten down the hatches,” he said. “[Lethbridge had] close to 60 shots tonight and that’s too many, and our d-zone was sloppy when they needed to be airtight.
“It’s tough. We did some good things, but at this stage of the game, there’s no excuse for some of the other stuff.”
The Ice’s next game is on Wednesday in Edmonton against the Oil Kings, where the Ice will look to end a six-game losing streak.
“We’re playing the right way and Edmonton has been struggling,” said Loschiavo. That’s a must win for us. We just have to keep going.”
Pierce agreed, but said that in order to ensure a victory, they’ll have to eliminate key breakdowns that have plagued them in recent efforts.
“[We need] a little more sacrifice, a little more game intelligence,” Pierce said. “It’s just eliminating those silly [mistakes]. You’re going to get beat at times, but we’ve got to take out the dumb errors and give ourselves a much better chance at fighting in there.”
As for Zborosky, he left Cranbrook with a smile on his face.
“It [was] unbelievable, when I was going out for the first star and I could hear the cheering [and] I kind of got goosebumps,” he said. “It just shows how nice the community is and how well they’ve treated me over my career and it’s nice to, sort of, give back still.”
Lethbridge’s next visit to Western Financial Place will be on February 25 and will be Zborosky and Alfaro’s final game in Cranbrook.