The Kootenay Ice claimed their first victory of the 2015 Western Hockey League pre-season Thursday night with a 2-1 shootout win over the Tri-City Americans in Kennewick, Wash.
“People always under-value or over-value [the pre-season], depending what side of it you’re on,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, over the phone from Kennewick Thursday night. “If you’re losing games, they always say, ‘Well, it’s just exhibition.’ If you’re winning games, you start saying your team looks really good.
“I think, for our group, after not a very good showing on Tuesday at home [in a 6-1 loss to the Lethbridge Hurricanes] it was good. It feels good. I think our veteran guys should be proud of the way they played and battled today, but it’s obviously very early.”
The Ice and Americans battled two a 1-1 draw through regulation time. Five minutes of wide-open, three-on-three overtime hockey did nothing to change that as a shootout was required to settle the score.
The three-on-three overtime format is new to the WHL for the 2015-16 campaign but has been a staple in the British Columbia Hockey League for a number of years.
While the re-imagined sudden-death period is new to many of the players, it was nothing new for Pierce, who is in his first year as coach of the Ice following six seasons with the BCHL’s Merritt Centennials.
“For our guys, you could see the excitement — they were jumping and itching to go,” Pierce said.
“It’s going to be great for our fans if we’re in those situations.”
Despite having a veteran-laden group at his disposal, Pierce opted to go with a trio of rookies in the skills competition, deploying a trio of 17-year-olds — Connor Barley, Jared Legien and Shane Allan — and it paid off.
Barley and Legien scored while goaltender Wyatt Hoflin turned aside Morgan Geekie and Kyle Olson to backstop the Ice to a 2-1 win.
Hoflin made 37 saves on 38 shots through regulation and overtime, before steering aside both shootout attempts.
“He was huge,” Pierce said of his 20-year-old puck-stopper.
“Our legs kind of ran out [in overtime] and he made four world-class, elite saves. He gave us a chance and then he was rock solid in the shootout.”
The Americans opened the scoring late in the first period, as Tyler Sandhu capitalized on some miscommunication deep in Ice territory.
A scoreless second period played into the third as veteran forward Zak Zborosky knotted the game up for the visitors less than five minutes into the final period.
“We talked a lot, and emphasized on Wednesday in practice, our work ethic,” Pierce said. “It was 100-per-cent better than it was Tuesday. That’s a real positive sign for me.”
Both teams were unsuccessful on the power-play Thursday night, with the Ice going 0-for-4 and the Americans going 0-for-5 on the man advantage.
Beck Warm, a 16-year-old native of Whistler, started between the pipes for the Americans, turning aside all 18 shots he faced before surrendering the crease to 17-year-old Nicholas Sanders.
Sanders, a native of Calgary, gave up the lone goal to Zborosky, stopping 14 pucks before being victimized twice in the shootout.
The Ice will look to build upon Thursday’s victory when they face the Seattle Thunderbirds Friday afternoon (4 p.m. MST) in Kennewick, Wash.
“When we were simple [Thursday against Tri-City], we were effective,” Pierce said. “When we started to complicate the game, we got into trouble.
“We’re going to be even that much more fatigued [Friday against Seattle], so we’ve got to simplify it and I can’t underscore compete. That’s going to be the emphasis all week here.”
Kootenay wraps up a three-game stint at the Red Lion Hotels Pre-season Tournament on Saturday (12 p.m. MST) against the Prince George Cougars.
Notes: The Ice scratched G Declan Hobbs, D Nathyn Mortlock, D Dallas Hines, F Max Patterson, F Harris Pearce and D Jason Wenzel on Thursday… Not with the Ice this weekend are F Jon Martin (Penticton Young-Stars Tournament, Vancouver Canucks), F Luke Philp (Philadelphia Flyers) and Tanner Faith (Minnesota Wild)… F Jordan Roy, a 17-year-old native of Kimberley, B.C., and former Kimberley Dynamiter, suited up for the Americans Thursday night, registering no points and one minor penalty for roughing…