After wrapping up a home stand, the Kootenay Ice have hit the road for their first major trip of the season.
The Ice played out their last few games in their home barn over the weekend against the Red Deer Rebels and the Spokane Chiefs, before facing Hitmen in Calgary on Monday.
Afterwards, they’ll challenge the Swift Current Brocos, the Prince Albert Raiders and the Saskatoon Blades over the next six days.
After a lacklustre performance against Brent Sutter’s squad, which ended at a 3-0 loss, Kootenay responded with a 3-2 victory over the Chiefs and a 5-1 win over the Hitmen.
The wins have put Kootenay into fifth place in the Eastern Conference, tied at 24 points with the Hitmen in front and the Raiders behind.
Wyatt Hoflin stepped up to take over starting duties, with Skapski recovering from a lower-body injury. Kootenay prospect Jayden Sittler has been recalled from the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs in the AMHL, and will join the team for just under two weeks.
Hoflin backstopped the team over all three games, earning the victories against the Chiefs and Hitmen.
“The guys are stepping up around him, but he’s had to make some saves and he’s done a good job, he looks confident and everyday he’s in the net, he looks more confident,” said McGill, following the win over Calgary.
Ice captain Sam Reinhart noted the same thing following the victory over the Chiefs.
“He’s stepped up huge for us in the last couple games.”
Kootenay also continues to miss the services of defenceman Tanner Faith and Zach McPhee, both of whom are out of the lineup with undisclosed upper-body injures.
Red Deer played a physical game and shut down the Ice on Friday evening. Cole Chourney scored in the first period for an early lead, which was padded by Rhyse Dieno and Connor Bleackley in the third frame.
Patrik Bartosak made 19 saves for the shutout, while Holfin turned away 25 shots in defeat.
“I don’t think we were mentally ready, as a team, to start,” said Ice forward Ryan Chynoweth. “We came out a little sloppy and had moments throughout the game where we put it on, but couldn’t figure it out for a full 60 minutes, and I think it cost us tonight.”
It was school spirit night, as schools from around the local district came out to cheer on the Ice. It was the largest home crowd of the year at 2,908.
Though Mitch Holmberg got a few points the following night, Kootenay did a pretty good job of shutting down the WHL’s leading scorer on Saturday in a 3-2 win over the Chiefs.
Not only did Kootenay pick up the win, but they did it without leading goal-scorer Jaedon Descheneau, who sat out as a healthy scratch.
Kootenay was rewarded with a solid first-period effort late in the frame, when Luke Philp scored with a slap shot nine seconds into an Ice powerplay.
Holmberg tied it up in the middle frame, ripping a high wrist shot into the corner—making it his 50th point and the first player in the CHL to reach that mark.
However, Levi Cable broke the deadlock five minutes later, tipping a point shot from Landon Peel past Chiefs goaltender Eric Williams.
Hoflin stood tall on a shorthanded breakaway, robbing Holmberg. The play immediately transitioned back up the ice, and Austin Vetterl sniped the twine while entering Spokane territory.
Riding a 3-1 lead going into the the third period, Holmberg and Mike Aviani combined again; Aviani’s body redirecting a shot from Holmberg that beat Holfin on the powerplay.
That would seal it up for the scoring, as Kootenay defeated their first U.S. Division opponent, after losing to the Tri-City Americans, Portland Winterhawks and Seattle Thunderbirds earlier in the schedule.
“Consistency has been a big focus of our game this year, we’ve definitely struggled with that,” said Reinhart. “With that being said, there’s definitely some character involved with us—I don’t think we’ve lost two in a row since the first weekend.
“We definitely got to get better at being consistent night in and night out, but after a game last night [Red Deer], to bounce back like this against a good team like Spokane who have a lot of offence, it shows a lot of character in our guys.”
Descheneau reappeared back in the lineup on Monday afternoon in Calgary and led the team to a 5-1 victory, adding two more goals to his 2013-14 resume.
Tim Bozon opened the scoring on a pretty passing play with Descheneau, which stands as his first marker in a Kootenay Ice uniform since joining the team eight games ago. Calder Brooks responded for the Hitmen by the end of the period for a 1-1 tie after 20 minutes.
The game opened up in the second period, and for another first, Rinat Valiev scored his first career WHL goal, sniping as he patiently skated into Calgary territory.
Martin found the back of the net at even-strength and Descheneau potted a power play goal for a 4-1 lead at the end of the frame. The Kootenay Ice triggerman added another goal with the man-advantage in the third period for a 5-1 final.
“A very solid effort from start to finish,” said McGill. “Really good special teams and Wyatt Hoflin made the saves when he had to make them.”