For the second consecutive outing, the Kootenay Ice were their own worst enemies.
The Ice wrapped up the 2015 Western Hockey League pre-season Saturday night in the Crowsnest Pass, falling 4-2 to the Calgary Hitmen.
While turnovers cost the Ice in a 3-2 loss to the Lethbridge Hurricanes Thursday, it was a lack of discipline killing momentum in the final fall tune-up on Saturday.
“We shot ourselves in the foot. We talked about this last time,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice. “This time we did it in a little different way. We killed our own momentum.”
After falling behind 2-0 midway through the first period, the Ice pushed back against a strong Hitmen squad.
Rookie forward Max Patterson capped the first-period response by the Ice, firing a long shot from the right wing that evaded the blocker of Hitmen goaltender Lasse Petersen. With 1:34 remaining in the opening period, the Ice were on the board and back in the game.
The momentum carried over to the second period before everything unraveled.
Midway through the period, Elliott Peterson redirected a Loch Morrison point shot past Ice goaltender Declan Hobbs to restore the two-goal advantage for Calgary.
“I think our team just wasn’t really prepared coming in,” Hobbs said Saturday. “We have to be more mentally prepared coming in…We just have to work harder. Sometimes in the game, we’re just not putting that extra effort in. If we can do that, I think we’re going to do fine.”
Hobbs is looking to battle his way into a permanent role with the Ice in 2015-16.
The native of Saskatoon appeared in two contests for the Ice in 2014-15, registering a 3.98 goals-against average and .875 save percentage.
Through two pre-season appearances this fall, Hobbs went 1-1-0 while steering aside 62 of the 68 shots sent his way.
With veteran Wyatt Hoflin already in town and Keelan Williams returning, the crease won’t be an easy place to lay claim to this fall.
“When I came in last year, I was pretty nervous,” Hobbs said. “I didn’t know what to expect. But I found where I wanted to be and settled down through the game. I try doing that in these games, too. Early on, I try to tell myself, ‘Just calm down. You’ll play your best.’
“My number-one goal is to make the team. I hope that can happen. Coming through October, I hope I can keep up my game and keep playing to my best.
“Both Hof and Willy are good guys. It’s good to have them mentor me. They’re older guys, they know what the league’s like and they tell me what I need to do. I appreciate that. It’s been really good.”
Moments after Peterson’s goal, veteran Ice forward Matt Alfaro was sent off for high-sticking.
On the ensuing power play, Hitmen forward Taylor Sanheim went to the net and was rewarded for his efforts as a loose puck landed on his tape. A helpless Hobbs couldn’t do much as the veteran forward deposited the gift into an open cage.
Just like that, the Hitmen had turned a close, one-goal game into a 4-1 uphill climb for the Ice.
“We got undisciplined and selfish a little bit and took all momentum away from ourselves,” Pierce said. “That’s a big part of the game, trying to control that.
“Everybody focuses on details of systems and things like that. For me, the bigger lesson we need to learn is our game management. By that, I mean a lot about momentum, trying to control it and not letting major swings go the other way and knowing how to put a stop to their momentum.”
From there, an experienced Hitmen squad was content to manage the three-goal cushion against a younger Ice outfit.
Import forward Roman Dymacek took advantage of a power-play midway through the third period to pull the Ice within two goals, but there was no more offense to be found as the Hitmen claimed a 4-2 victory to close out the pre-season.
“Today, wasn’t his best game, but he’s got that ability,” Pierce said of the 18-year-old Czech import. “He can kind of disappear for a while, then show up and create a chance. He’s got great speed and he’s starting to understand the systems stuff a little bit better. It’s a tough barrier — the language thing. It’s a new thing for me, so I have to take more time, individually, with Roman to help him, but he’s willing. He plays hard.
“He’s not your typical Don Cherry type of European.”
Dymacek came to the Ice via the 2015 CHL Import Draft.
The native of Hodonin, Czech Republic, doesn’t speak much English as of yet, politely declining an interview Saturday. He was able to divulge that he’s set to begin English classes at Cranbrook’s College of the Rockies this Monday.
Despite being saddled with the loss, the 17-year-old Hobbs was strong, turning aside 28 shots including a number of high-quality scoring opportunities in tight.
“Declan is a battler,” Pierce said. “The shot count wasn’t as high in that first period, but I think every shot they had was a good scoring chance or a high-quality chance. He doesn’t quit on anything. Much like Wyatt [Hoflin], he’s very active with the puck as well. We’re going to need that with how much time we’re going to spend stuck in our end. If he can move a puck out and make a pass, that’s going to relieve a lot of pressure from our opponent’s forecheck.”
Hitmen forward Beck Malenstyn provided a power-play tally to open the scoring in the first period, before Mark Kastelic doubled the lead with an even-strength goal from just outside the blue paint.
Petersen, 18, made 23 saves for his third victory of the WHL pre-season.
With the loss, the Ice finish the pre-season 2-3-1-0. The victory boosted the Hitmen to a perfect 7-0-0-0.
Coming out of Saturday’s loss, 31 players remain on the Ice roster. It is expected the team will announce a handful of reassignments Sunday.
The Ice and Hitmen will take five days away from one another before renewing their long-standing Central Division rivalry.
The Ice host the Hitmen Friday at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook to open the WHL’s 50th season.
The two teams go back to it Saturday night in Calgary when the Hitmen host the Ice at the Scotiabank Saddledome.