With Wyatt Hoflin 20 saves from establishing a new Kootenay Ice franchise record, the countdown was on Friday night at Western Financial Place.
During the second period of play, the 21-year-old native of Spruce Grove, Alta., established a new Kootenay Ice franchise record for saves, turning aside defenceman Chance Patterson to make his 20th stop of the night against the Edmonton Oil Kings.
On the play, Patterson sent a long, booming slap shot from the point in on the Kootenay net. In typical Wyatt Hoflin fashion, the veteran goaltender calmly and cooly booted out a leg to kick out the puck, making his 4,189th career stop to surpass Nathan Lieuwen as the Kootenay Ice all-time franchise leader for saves.
The achievement didn’t go without recognition, as all those in attendance gave the humble netminder a warm standing ovation when the announcement was made at the next stoppage.
By the end of the night, Hoflin cobbled together 33 saves and now stands with 4,202 (and counting) in his career.
“It’s huge for me, from where I came from to where I am now is leaps and bounds,” Hoflin said Friday night. “It’s a reward for the hard work I’ve put in.
“It’s been a learning experience, really. It is a development league for a reason. That’s exactly what I did when I came here. The things you learn along the way, the experiences you go through to get to where you are when you leave the Western Hockey League, it’s unbelievable.”
Hoflin’s record-setting save was the ultimate highlight in an otherwise forgettable night for the Kootenay Ice as they went on to fall 6-2 to the Edmonton Oil Kings in front of 2,593 fans on Pink the Rink anti-bullying night at Western Financial Place.
“That’s what’s so disappointing about the night, I know it’s hard to have any night be special with the way our year has gone, but you want to make this as memorable as you can for Wyatt,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, Friday night. “It’s a huge accomplishment that gets overshadowed and it’s unfortunate because it’s a big honour for him.
“His work ethic throughout this entire year to keep himself as an elite goaltender in our league, it’s something I think some of our young guys maybe won’t appreciate until they’re running into their 20-year-old year.”
In a rebuilding year for a young hockey team, the veteran Hoflin has been a standout on a nightly basis.While most fans and pundits focus on statistics like goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts, often overlooked is the fact Hoflin sits third in the entire WHL with 1,445 saves to his credit to this point in the 2015-16 season.
“He’s a good friend of mine and I’ve played with him these last three seasons,” said Ice alternate captain Matt Alfaro. “I’m really proud of the guy. I’m happy it’s him [holding the saves record]. He’s a great part of our team, he keeps us in games and he’s a great puck mover.
“He’s a great leader.”
Despite his best efforts, Hoflin’s presence wasn’t enough to steal a victory on this night as the Oil Kings scored three times in the second period to put the game all but out of reach.
First, Dario Meyer converted on a turnover only 4:33 into the middle period to give the Oil Kings a 3-1 advantage.
Midway through, Brett Pollock danced into Ice territory and sent a quick snap from the slot that found iron and twine behind Hoflin for a 4-1 Edmonton lead.
Moments after Hoflin’s record save, Davis Koch pounced on a loose puck, slipping a backhand effort between the wickets for a 5-1 Oil Kings advantage. By the end of the night, Koch collected first-star honours along with one goal and two assists, officially.
After having open the scoring in the first period, Alfaro gave the hosts some hope late in the second.
With only 17.8 seconds remaining in the period, the veteran native of Calgary redirected a Jesse Zaharichuk shot, beating Oil Kings goaltender Patrick Dea for his second goal of the evening and 19th of the season, cutting the Oil Kings lead to 5-2 after 40 minutes.
A spirited start to the third period saw Alfaro and Tanner Lishchynsky muck it up with Aaron Irving and Brett Pollock, building upon the energy Alfaro shot into his club to end the second.
“Have some pride, we know there are a lot of fans here tonight and it’s for a good cause,” Alfaro said regarding the start of the third period. “We don’t want to be embarrassed or get pushed around. Give [the fans] a show and have some pride.
“Turnovers and not getting the puck deep [cost us]. In the neutral zone, we had chances to get it deep and get changes or get o-zone faceoffs and we didn’t do that. They made us pay in transition.”
After the brouhaha, Irving returned to the ice and eventually put a power-play marker past Hoflin to make it 6-2 and that was all she wrote for the Ice.
With how the festivities opened in the first period, fans in Cranbrook probably thought they were in for a much different outcome as Alfaro brought the pink-clad crowd to its feet early.
With River Beattie out of the lineup Friday, Alfaro and linemate Zak Zborosky were reunited with Zaharichuk and it paid dividends early as the peppy winger fed Alfaro who beat Dea for his 18th goal of the season a 1-0 Ice lead. The play came 17 seconds into the game and on the first shot of the night for the Ice.
Less than five minutes later, Tyler Robertson rolled over the Ice blueline and sent a long shot in on Hoflin, beating the veteran goaltender blocker side to tie the game 1-1.
Lane Bauer sent a rebound past Hoflin for a 2-1 Edmonton lead less than five minutes after Robertson had evened the score.
By the end of the night, Bauer had himself a goal and two assists to help lead the Oil Kings.
In net, Dea made 26 saves for his 17th win of the campaign.
The Oil Kings (27-28-6-1) carry on to visit the Lethbridge Hurricanes (40-20-1-1) while the Ice (10-46-5-0) host the Portland Winterhawks (31-27-4-0) Saturday night.
“They’re real good,” Pierce said looking ahead to Saturday. “That Bukarts kid is probably as good as any in this league right now. Watching their film against Edmonton, a 5-1 score doesn’t do them justice.
“They’re a real good hockey team, for sure, but on the end of a real long trip. We have to have a ton of energy early in the game and try to put them on their heels to see if we can control it from there.”
Puck drop between the Ice and Winterhawks is slated for 7 p.m. Saturday at Western Financial Place.
Notes: The Kootenay Ice went without RW Jaedon Descheneau (shoulder), RW Austin Gray (undisclosed), RW River Beattie (undisclosed) and C Dylan Stewart (concussion) Friday… The Edmonton Oil Kings were without the services of G Alec Dillon (lower body), D Braydon Gorda (upper body), LW Kobe Mohr, LW Branden Klatt and D Anatolii Elizarov (upper body)…