It seemed as if nothing could go right for the Kootenay Ice on Tuesday night.
The team struggled to put sustained pressure on the Calgary Hitmen, while lapses in defensive coverage accounted for at least three goals from the opposition in a 6-1 loss at Western Financial Place.
Brooks Macek had a goal and two assists and teammate Greg Chase had a pair of goals as the Hitmen’s victory put them ahead of the Edmonton Oil Kings for second place in the Eastern Conference. The two teams are tied at 41 points, but Calgary has one more win in the column than their Albertan rival, which gives them the standings edge.
“I think we’re a pretty solid team for our depth,” said Macek, on what makes his team so strong. “We got four good lines, our D [defence] is solid and we’re listening to what our coach is saying and we’re bringing it out onto the ice.”
The Ice, in turn, suffered their third consecutive loss and their second straight to the Hitmen after being defeated 4-1 at the Saddledome on Sunday.
“I think our compete level wasn’t there today,” said Ice defenceman Jagger Dirk. “50/50 battles, 50/50 races on pucks—we weren’t winning them and that’s disappointing as a team, because we pride ourselves on work ethic and outworking the other team, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Hitmen goaltender Mack Shields faced 31 shots—an improvement for the Ice, which had failed to put more than 20 pucks on net over the last two games. At the other end of the rink, Mackenzie Skapski made 35 saves in goal for the Ice.
Kootenay’s power play stalled as it failed to convert over five opportunities, while the Hitmen scored once on the man-advantage over their three chances.
Ice forward Jaedon Descheneau made it into the lineup and is out of the doghouse following an indefinite team suspension last week that caused him to miss three games.
The team also had to make do without defensive veteran Joey Leach, who is wearing a sling and will be out for two to four weeks.
Despite opening the scoring, the Ice were down 3-1 after the end of the first period.
Kyle O’Connor put Kootenay on the board just before the halfway mark of the frame when he threw an innocent looking shot on net that slipped by Mack Shields and trickled into the net.
The Ice enjoyed the lead for a total of 11 seconds, before Pavlo Padakin tapped a rebound into a wide open net from Brooks Macek.
Jon Martin caused a scrum in front of the Hitmen bench, and was hauled to the sin bin for high sticking afterwards, and Calgary drew blood on the ensuing power play.
Victor Rask sniped a shot top corner from the point to put the Hitmen in the lead on the man-advantage a minute after Padakin’s goal.
Less than a minute after that, Greg Chase beat Skapski through the five-hole off a shot in the slot for a two-goal Calgary lead.
Calgary’s quick goals seemed to halt Kootenay’s momentum after gaining a brief lead, said Dirk.
“We’re up 1-0 on them and we let a quick goal against us. That just takes the air out of our tires right away and we can’t allow that,” he said.
More pain came in the second period, as the Ice’s defensive woes continued.
Carson Samoridny added to the lead in the middle frame, when he snapped in a shot from the side of the net with no coverage on him.
Brooks Macek scored Calgary’s fifth goal halfway through the game, when he found himself alone in front of Skapski and capitalized off a pass from the corner.
However, the Ice had their chances.
Kootenay seemed to score from a tap-in following a slap shot from Brock Montgomery that rang of the crossbar, but the puck had hit the netting above the glass before getting shoveled into the net after settling on the ice.
Luke Philp had the next best chance, toe dragging the puck into the slot and past a defenceman, who’d hit the deck going for the poke check, however Shields made the save.
Even with a four-goal cushion, the Hitmen kept coming in the third period, when Chase scored his second marker of the game. The Calgary sniper walked into the slot from the blue line, evading Ice jerseys to snap a shot top shelf over Skapski’s blocker.
The Ice’s best chance of the final period was a backdoor pass with a wide open net on the power play, but Erik Benoit misfired on the shot.
The challenges keep coming for the Ice as they host the Prince Albert Raiders, which sit atop the Eastern Conference, on Friday, which is also the A&W Bear Toque, and Mitten Toss night.
Bring along a teddy bear or a winter clothing item and launch it out onto the ice surface when Kootenay scores it’s first goal. All items collected will be donated to health care facilities and the Salvation Army.