In what could easily have been dubbed ‘Legend of the Guardians’, it was Kootenay Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin standing triumphant Wednesday night.
Making 34 saves, the 20-year-old Hoflin out-duelled Moose Jaw Warriors goaltender Brody Willms to lead the Kootenay Ice to a nail-biting 1-0 victory in Western Hockey League action at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook.
“Anytime you get in a situation like that, it’s kind of first one to blink is the one who is going to lose the game,” Hoflin said after Wednesday’s victory. “Luckily for me, it was at the other end tonight.
“It feels really good. The way things were going — last game [Saturday in Moose Jaw] we played a lot better than we had in the past. Building off that, hopefully it’s a stepping stone to success for us.”
For the Ice, the win snapped a five-game losing streak and for Hoflin, it was his first victory of the 2015-16 campaign.
When the two teams met Saturday, the Warriors collected a 4-3 victory while Hoflin was between the pipes, so Wednesday wasn’t just a matter of revenge for the home team as a whole.
Hoflin was called upon early and often, making a handful of key stops, particularly against the top line for the Warriors — featuring WHL Player of the Week Brayden Point, along with lanky Russian left wing Nikita Popugaev and Kootenay-born speedster Dryden Hunt.
The trio moved the puck with ease, creating a multitude of scoring opportunities throughout regulation, but were unable to penetrate Hoflin’s armour as he registered his first shutout of the season.
Hoflin turned aside 16 shots in a busy first period. A quite, four-shot second period led into 14-shot barrage from the Warriors as they pressed in the third period.
“The first two periods cost us,” said Warriors defenceman Tanner Faith, who made his first return to Cranbrook after being traded by the Ice to Moose Jaw back on Sept. 23. “We came in and we weren’t prepared. We’re not going to win games only playing in the third period.”
Offense continues to come off the stick of Ice centre Luke Philp, and on this night, he did it all on his own.
Only 3:24 into the opening period, the 5-foot-10 pivot lugged the puck down the right wing before snapping an unassisted shot past the outstretched blocker of Willms.
The goal gave the hosts a 1-0 advantage they held until the final buzzer.
“Sometimes it’s tough to get out of losing streaks like that but we had a good effort tonight and it’s nice to get a win,” said Philp, 19, Wednesday.
“Hof was a big part of it. He stood on his head back there for us. He played unreal and gave us our best chance. We were able to bend and not break in key situations.”
While the Warriors didn’t come out victorious Wednesday, the visitors hung in there all night, pressing down to the final buzzer with Willms on the bench.
When all was said and done, Willms — a 17-year-old native of Coquitlam — had turned aside 25 shots of his own and gone nearly toe-to-toe with his much more experienced counterpart at the other end of the rink.
One could almost see the relief when the final horn sounded as the Ice collected their second victory of the season.
Heading into Wednesday’s tilt, the Ice were faced with the task of forging ahead without the services of four regular skaters.
Defenceman Tyler King (knee, indefinite) has been out of the lineup and unavailable since undergoing off-season knee surgery. Joining him last week was blue-liner Cale Fleury (upper body, two to three weeks).
In Fleury’s stead, 20-year-old Tanner Lishchynsky was a welcome sight as he returned from a pre-season knee injury to make his 2015-16 debut Wednesday night.
Up front, right wing Jaedon Descheneau (upper body, indefinite) is awaiting results of further evaluation to determine the extent of his injury while rookie right wing Max Patterson (upper body, one week) was also unavailable.
The bulk of bodies in the hospital wing led to regular defenceman Jason Wenzel taking a tour at right wing alongside Vince Loschiavo and River Beattie Wednesday night, while swingman Nathyn Mortlock showed his versatility in lining up at forward once again.
Next up, the Ice travel to Medicine Hat to face the Tigers Friday night, while the Warriors take on the Hitmen Thursday in Calgary.
Notes: The Ice power play went 0-for-4 Wednesday, while the Warriors went 0-for-5… Only 1,769 fans took in Wednesday’s tilt, a franchise all-time low since the Kootenay Ice moved to Western Financial Place from the old Memorial Arena. The previous low was 1,901 set Oct. 31, 2014, when the Red Deer Rebels defeated the Ice 7-3. Attendance has steadily decreased in 2015-16, dropping from 2,137 on opening night. Following Wednesday’s game, average attendance in Cranbrook this season is 1,967…
Daily Townsman Three Stars
1) G Wyatt Hoflin – Kootenay Ice (shutout, 34 saves);
2) C Luke Philp – Kootenay Ice (goal);
3) G Brody Willms – Moose Jaw Warriors (25 saves)
Around the ‘Dub: Wednesday afternoon, the Kelowna Rockets shipped 20-year-old forward Gage Quinney to the Kamloops Blazers in exchange for a third-round bantam draft pick in 2016. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Quinney has seven points in five games this season.