There was a lot of room on the Kootenay Ice bench this weekend.
The team is down to 17 players—four of which are injured while captain Sam Reinhart is trying to crack the national junior team for the World Juniors in Toronto.
The Ice felt those absences on Friday night with a 4-0 loss to the Red Deer Rebels on Teddy Bear Toss night, as both squads had missing coaches—Brent Sutter and Ryan McGill—who are currently manning the Team Canada bench for the U20 tournament.
However, a brilliant performance from goaltender Mackenzie Skapski helped the Ice pick up a 3-2 shootout win over the Swift Current Broncos the following night.
Easily the best player for the Kootenay squad, Skapski turned away two attempts in the shootout and made 41 saves in regulation for the win.
“I felt like today was a bounce-back game and I felt like I needed to prove something today,” said Skapski, following the win.
It’s the second time in three games where he’s faced more than 40 shots, turning away a career-high 51 in Prince George last Tuesday in a 3-1 win over the Cougars.
“It’s a reality walking into games now, just with a short bench and I think you kind of have to expect it and can’t really get rattled over it,” said Skapski, on facing so much vulcanized rubber. “It’s an expectation for the time being and it is what it is.”
Tim Bozon and Luke Philp scored against Broncos goaltender Eetu Laurikainen in the shootout, while Philp added a goal in regulation along with Jaedon Descheneau.
Swift Current outshot the Ice in every single period for a 43-34 edge, but Skapski’s work in between the pipes was the difference-maker. Kootenay also generated some dangerous offensive chances on Laurikainen, who made 31 stops.
Jagger Dirk, Tanner Faith, Ryan Chynoweth and Rinat Valiev were all in the press box on both nights. Zach McPhee, a 19-year-old forward, went down to the defensive corps to use his size against the oncoming opposition.
“It’s tough, but you just need guys to bear down, you need guys to dig deep, because you can’t make excuses just because we have three lines and five D or whatever it is,” said Philp.
Both teams held each other scoreless in the first period, even though Swifty doubled up the Ice on the shot clock. Kootenay was more organized in the middle frame with some better offensive chances, and were rewarded on special teams when Philp buried a rebound on the powerplay in front of Laurikainen.
In the third period, the Ice made a key penalty kill on a Swift Current two-man advantage, but another Kootenay minor kicked in on a delay of game right after it expired.
Jake DeBrusk was able to tally the tying marker to even it up at 1-1 and two minutes later, after hitting two posts during the game, Graham Black finally got his goal, ripping a shot by Skapski in the slot.
“They had the five-on-three to start the third and they scored one late on the powerplay and got another one quick, so we stuck with it and did a real good job of that and came back late and ended up getting the win, so that’s huge,” said Philp.
With 2:06 left on the clock, Descheneau picked up the puck and fired it home after Troy Murray brought it into the zone and fired it on net.
The two teams headed into OT, and again, Swift Current had the edge in chances, while the Ice had a dangerous-looking odd-man rush called offside.
Bozon and Philp tallied in the shootout, while Descheneau was stopped by Laurikainen. Skapski made saves on both DeBrusk and Black.
It was a better result than Friday’s shutout loss to the Rebels on Teddy Bear Toss night.
Red Deer built up a two-goal lead after the first period on efforts from Connor Bleackley and Brooks Maxwell. The two teams played each other to a draw in the middle frame, but Maxwell drew blood again in the last 10 minutes of the period and Brady Gaudet added a shorthanded empty net goal to seal up the scoring.
Patrik Bartosak was perfect in goal for the Rebels with 35 saves while Skapski turned away 26 shots for the Ice.