With a 5-2 win over the Kamloops Blazers, the Kootenay Ice continued to push up the WHL’s Eastern Conference standings Tuesday night.
The win pushed the Ice beyond the .500-mark for the first time since September, as they head into the holiday break 18-17-0-0 on the strength of a three-game winning streak.
“The most important thing was to get the win,” said Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill Tuesday night. “It’s a tough game to play in. I told a lot of guys, ‘You’ve got to be intense and you’ve got to focus.’
“I thought we were way better in the third period than the first two periods when it mattered the most. That’s the sign of a good team.”
Defenceman Tyler King has been steady all season long for the Ice and Tuesday night was no exception. The 19-year-old product of Pilot Butte, Sask., took care of business at both ends of the rink, capped off with the game-winning goal 8:02 into the third period.
“Descheneau made a great play down low and I just crept in the backdoor a little bit,” King said following Tuesday’s win. “He was able to get it to me and I just got enough of it to get it into the net.”
The tally was King’s fourth of the campaign and his second in as many games. The veteran blueliner has 15 points in 31 games this season, good enough for second amongst Ice defencemen.
“I’ve just been trying to work as hard as I can to create plays,” King added. “All the guys have been really good. It’s easy to make plays on a team like this when you have skill up front. It’s nice.”
King has been with the Ice for a little less than a year after being acquired from the Spokane Chiefs Dec. 31, 2013, in exchange for forward Hudson Elynuik.
In 195 career WHL games between the Chiefs and Ice, King has produced 13 goals and 57 points. His career high came last season when he registered 20 points in 69 games between the two clubs. The veteran defenceman is on pace to register 31 points this season, which would set a new career high.
King’s goal Tuesday night gave the Ice a 3-2 lead over the Blazers. A mere 57 seconds later, a former Blazer drove the dagger into the visitors, as 20-year-old Tim Bozon put a rebound past goaltender Connor Ingram for a 4-2 Kootenay advantage.
“That goal was just a nice play. Alfaro got at the rebound, I got the second rebound and put it in the net,” Bozon said. “It’s always nice to score against your old squad.
“I had a lot of chances I couldn’t bury [tonight]. I was on the ice a lot tonight, so maybe I missed, a little bit, some fresh legs to produce a little bit more offense.”
Bozon hasn’t had much difficulty producing offense since returning to the Ice from the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. The native of Valbonne, France, has been a force with 13 goals and 27 points through 20 games heading into the holiday break.
The Montreal Canadiens prospect wasn’t the only player to score against his former club Tuesday night.
Collin Shirley gave the Blazers the lead with two goals in the first 11 minutes of the second period. After being drafted 17th overall by the Ice in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, the 18-year-old native of Saskatoon was dealt to Kamloops in the trade that brought French winger Tim Bozon to Cranbrook.
With his 18th goal of the campaign, Ice alternate captain Jaedon Descheneau pulled his club even before time expired in the second period.
Descheneau was dangerous all night long, drawing a penalty shot in the first period.
Crossing the blue line and skating wide, the St. Louis Blues prospect cut back towards Ingram, going outside-in to fool the Blazers puck-stopper. Unfortunately for Descheneau, he wasn’t able to fool the iron and the game remained scoreless.
After Bozon’s insurance tally, forward Ryan Chynoweth registered his second in as many nights to further pad the host’s advantage and that was all the Ice needed.
Kootenay’s leading scorer from the blue line, Rinat Valiev, opened the festivities with 4:23 to play in the first period after his long wrist shot eluded Ingram.
Wyatt Hoflin, starting his 23rd consecutive game, made 30 saves for his 18th victory of the season. At the other end of the rink, Ingram made 22 stops.
“It definitely feels really good [to be the go-to guy],” Hoflin said Tuesday. “It’s a change for me and I’ve adapted pretty well. There’s been some games where I’d like to have been a little bit better.
“I’ve handled it good so far, I just have to make sure I continue that in the second half in the season.”
Hoflin is within two games of the Kootenay Ice franchise record for consecutive appearances by a goaltender. Former Ice goaltender Todd Mathews holds the record with 25 consecutive appearances (Jan. 21 to March 14. 2009).
Hoflin and the Ice head into a 10-day holiday break holding down seventh place in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and fourth place in the Central Division after leap-frogging the Edmonton Oil Kings (15-14-3-2) Tuesday night.
The Ice return to action Saturday, Dec. 27 when they host the Calgary Hitmen (19-11-1-2) at Western Financial Place.
Notes: The Kootenay Ice were without captain Sam Reinhart (World Juniors) for the third game…Ice D Dylan Overdyk (concussion) missed his 12th game…Ice D Tanner Faith (upper body) missed his fifth game…Ice F Matt Alfaro skated in his 100th WHL game…The Blazers went without LW Jesse Zaharichuk, D Brady Gaudet (upper body), D Michael Fora (World Juniors), LW Jermaine Loewen (upper body) and D Connor Clouston…