The Kootenay Ice opened the 2014-15 WHL regular season on a winning note Friday night, claiming a 5-3 victory over the Red Deer Rebels at the ENMAX Centrium.
Veteran F Jon Martin tallied the game-winning goal with just more than five minutes remaining in regulation to put the Ice ahead 4-3. F Luke Philp added an empty-netter with 20 seconds to play, hammering the final nail into the Rebels coffin.
In a back-and-forth affair that saw the lead exchange hands four times, the Ice prevailed, scoring three unanswered goals in the third period to spoil the Rebels’ home-opening festivities.
“The most important thing is we got the two points,” said Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill following the game. “We were very inconsistent within the game. Way too many ebbs and flows in the game.
“It was way too helter-skelter at times.”
Martin was officially credited with one goal and one assist, though he appeared to get the final touch on the goal credited to F Zak Zbororsky early in the third period. Zborosky sent two pucks to the back of the net.
“To start the third period, we needed a momentum shift because of how we ended the last five minutes of the second period on our heels,” McGill said. “It was very important that [Martin] and Zborosky set the tone for the third period.”
Goaltender Wyatt Hoflin earned the first start of the season, turning aside 28 of the 31 pucks sent his way.
“[Hoflin] did a good job with his rebounds tonight,” McGill added. “When you’re not giving up second and third opportunities, that’s big for a goaltender.”
The Rebels opened the scoring 4:59 into the first period when Brooks Maxwell broke in alone and deposited a backhand-effort behind Hoflin for a short-handed marker.
Austin Vetterl replied midway through the first and Zborosky snatched his first goal of the night late in the opening period as the Ice took a 2-1 lead to the dressing room after 20 minutes.
A couple quick goals by the Rebels in the final five minutes of the second period would give the hosts a 3-2 edge heading into the final frame. D Brett Cote’s long shot eluded Hoflin with 4:21 to play and F Meyer Nell cleaned up the rebound off another long Cote shot roughly two minutes later.
Defencemen Troy Murray and Dylan Overdyk both record two-assist games from the blue line.
G Taz Burman went the distance between the pipes for Red Deer, making 19 stops on 23 shots.
The Ice went 0-for-3 on the man advantage to open the season, while the Rebels were blanked on their only power-play opportunity.
Philp, Cable and D Tyler King each wore an ‘A’ on their respective sweaters to open the season, perhaps a nod towards candidates for the Ice captaincy, assuming F Sam Reinhart sticks with the Buffalo Sabres.
Despite grabbing two points to start the season, McGill reiterated his team will need to put forth a stronger, more consistent performance tomorrow night if they’re to claim all four of the points available on this season-opening road swing.
“We get up tomorrow morning, we hit the reset button and we talk about how we can be better in certain situations and move forward and try to be real consistent in our game plan.”
The Ice continue north up the highway to Edmonton where they face the Oil Kings tomorrow night at 7 p.m.
The Rebels and Ice will meet once again in Red Deer Saturday, Sept. 27. Kootenay’s home opener is slated for Oct. 3 when the Spokane Chiefs travel north of the border for a 7 p.m. puck drop.
Notes: The Kootenay Ice officially scratched seven players in this game, including G Jayden Sittler, D Tanner Faith, D Mark O’Shaughnessy, D Rinat Valiev, F Shane Allan, F River Beattie and F Jaedon Descheneau.