When you’ve dropped three consecutive games and sit last in your division, sometimes all that’s left for a coach is to focus on the positives and look to build upon them.
That’s precisely what Kootenay Ice head coach Luke Pierce is doing after his squad dropped back-to-back divisional road decisions to the Calgary Hitmen and Medicine Hat Tigers this weekend.
“We’ve got to take every positive out of that and show our guys why we put ourselves in a position, once again, to control and win a hockey game,” Pierce said Sunday afternoon, referring to Saturday’s 6-3 loss to the Tigers. “Then it’s understanding when we take leads — because we’ve seen a lot of leads lately — we have to understand that teams are going to come harder. We’ve got to be prepared for the bum rush and learn how to handle that.
“We’ll take the positives — every one of them that we can — and try to work on ways we can hold the fort a little bit better.”
Following Friday’s 6-0 defeat at the hands of the Calgary Hitmen (11-10-0-1), in which the Ice managed a franchise record-tying low 12 shots on goal, Pierce was pleased with the response from his squad the next night.
“We just laid an egg [Friday in Calgary],” Pierce said.
“I thought there were a lot of players [Saturday in Medicine Hat] that proved a lot of things to themselves about what they can accomplish when they want to work.”
Saturday at the Canalta Centre in Medicine Hat, the Ice (4-15-2-0) pushed to a 3-2 lead midway through the second period before the Tigers (6-8-2-1) turned the tables, scoring three consecutive goals to take a 5-3 lead into the final 20 minutes of regulation. ‘
After being in a position to take and hold control of the game, the Ice found themselves heading into the third period chasing and ultimately fell 6-3 as veteran Tigers forward Chad Butcher (1G, 1A) and captain Cole Sanford (2G) took over.
The Ice needed to dig deep in search of offense Saturday. With wingers Zak Zborosky and Jaedon Descheneau already missing from action due to injury, captain and leading scorer Luke Philp joined them in the stands after being hurt in Friday’s 6-0 loss to the Calgary Hitmen.
Sparking the bounce-back effort Saturday were forwards Vince Loschiavo, Jared Legien and Matt Alfaro.
Loschiavo tallied his second goal of the year with only 3:28 remaining on the clock in the first period, providing life for the visitors as they headed into the intermission trailing the Tigers 2-1.
Hard work in the second period led to a Western Hockey League milestone for winger Jared Legien, who pulled the Ice even with the Tigers at 2-2 as he collected his first-career WHL goal.
Less than one minute later, the veteran Alfaro took advantage of a loose puck, banging it past newly-acquired Tigers goaltender Mack Shields for a 3-2 Kootenay Ice lead.
“Matt Alfaro might have played his best game of the year for us,” Pierce said. “Stepping up with Luke [Philp] being out and ‘Z’ [Zborosky] being out.
“It was a really good rallying point for us.”
Unfortunately for the visitors, the Tigers responded with three consecutive goals of their own, courtesy Butcher, Sanford and Mason Shaw to retake a two-goal lead heading into the final period.
Sanford added his second of the night to hammer the final nail into the coffin in the third period.
While Pierce was already challenged with the reality of life without Zborosky, Philp and Descheneau, adding to the task was the loss of Troy Murray late in the first period.
With less than one minute remaining in the opening period, the veteran blue-liner got tangled up with Sanford far behind the play. Next thing you know, Murray’s gloves were off and he had Sanford pressed against the glass in the corner of the defensive zone.
Though neither player swung a fist or landed any punches, Murray was tagged with a five-minute major penalty for slashing and a game misconduct. On the flip side of the scuffle, Sanford received a pair of minors — slashing and cross-checking — on the play.
“I’m happy that Troy finally showed some emotion,” Pierce said. “That’s what we need from him. He’s a leader on our team by tenure and minutes played, all those things. We need him to have some passion and some fire. He took a couple of good whacks from Sanford there and he responded.
“We had none of that response on Friday night and it was good to see it come out, finally. You never want it to be a major penalty, but at least there’s something there.”
At this point, Pierce is unsure whether or not the WHL will be handing out supplemental discipline to Murray.
Saturday in Medicine Hat, it was goaltender Wyatt Hoflin tagged with the loss as he surrendered six goals on 38 shots.
The native of Spruce Grove, Alta., was also on the losing end of Friday’s defeat in Calgary, getting the hook after 40 minutes of play in which he was victimized for three goals on 19 shots.
Rookie Declan Hobbs came on in relief for the final period Friday, giving up three goals on 12 shots.
The Hitmen were led to victory by captain Colby Harmsworth, who registered the game-winning goal, along with multi-point efforts from defencemen Jake Bean (1G, 1A), Loch Morrison (3A) and forwards Radel Fazleev (2A) and Jackson Houck (2A).
Goaltender Cody Porter registered the 12-save shutout for the Hitmen.
Coming full circle, the Ice return to Cranbrook for weekday action as they look to build upon Saturday’s positives when they host the Everett Silvertips (10-5-0-1) on ‘2-for-1 Tuesday’ at Western Financial Place.
Video highlights: Kootenay Ice 0 at Calgary Hitmen 6: