The Kootenay Ice big guns came out on Thursday night in Calgary.
Sam Reinhart and Zach Franko both scored twice, while Luke Philp added a goal as the Ice steamrolled the Hitmen 5-2 in Game One of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal.
Though the Hitmen scored the first goal, Kootenay answered back with five straight—three on the powerplay—to come back and earn the victory.
Ice head coach Ryan McGill cautioned that it was only one game, and that while the team can savour it now, they’ll have to be prepared for another battle for Game Two.
“We got to enjoy that tonight and forget about it tomorrow and refocus for Saturday,” McGill said.
In another blow to the lineup, defenceman Tyler King and forward Zach McPhee left the game to injury.
King went out early after getting boarded in the defensive zone corner by Brady Brassart, while McPhee took a cross-check to the head from Linden Penner, who received a five-minute major penalty on the play.
The Hitmen paraded to the penalty box, giving up five straight power plays over the first two periods, with Kootenay scoring on two of them. The Ice added another goal with the man-advantage late in the final frame.
“We just took what they gave us and, obviously, we had some good traffic and some good looks and when you just take what they give you and don’t try to get too fancy, I think that’s one good thing about our powerplay,” said McGill.
Hitmen defenceman Jaynen Rissling went after Ice forward Austin Vetterl late in the game, and a scrum broke out 30 seconds later after Pavel Padakin took out Ice goaltender Mackenzie Skapski, who came out of his crease to play the puck.
Despite the late-game shenanigans, McGill is happy with how his team responded to the aggression.
“Our discipline was excellent, it’s been excellent all year, and I think our guys did a helluva job in the last 10 minutes of the game,” McGill said.
It’s no mystery why the Calgary bench was frustrated.
Greg Chase opened the scoring for the Hitmen on a screened shot while cutting through the slot in Ice territory roughly 4 minutes into the game.
Skapski slammed the door shut for most of the game after that, making 27 saves for his second playoff win.
Calgary’s penalty trouble didn’t do any favours, and Sam Reinhart wired a shot into the top corner at the side of the net on the powerplay to even it up just over the halfway mark.
Kootenay struck again with the man-advantage in the second period, as Luke Philp snapped home a shot from inside the blueline while quarterbacking the powerplay.
After splitting the defence, Jaedon Descheneneau went in all alone on Hitmen goaltender Chris Driedger, but was hooked on the play. The referee awarded a penalty shot, but Driedger was able to kick out a pad to make the stop on a forehand attempt from the Kootenay sniper.
However, the Ice kept on being in the right places at the right time.
Jagger Dirk threw the puck on net from the point, and Franko pivoted on the backhand outside the crease to beat Driedger for a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes of play.
Reinhart got his second of the game, going backhand to forehand and top shelf after defenceman Rinat Valiev drove the net from the wing and fed him a slick pass.
Franko also notched his second on another Ice powerplay, beating Driedger with a low shot stickside on the Hitmen goaltender.
The three powerplay goals came in seven chances with the man-advantage, while Calgary was shut out by the Kootenay penalty kill units on only one powerplay chance.
Brassart did manage to hit the scoresheet for a goal with a minute left in the game, scoring shorthanded after trailing the play and picking up a pass near the side of the net.
NOTES: The WHL released the Eastern and Western Conference award nominees on Thursday, and two Ice players hit the list. Sam Reinhart is the Eastern Conference nominee for the Brad Hornung Trophy, which goes to the WHL’s Most Sportsmanlike Player. Reinhart was also named to the first All-Star team, while linemate Jaedon Descheneau was named to the second All-Star team…. In an interview broadcast on ShawTV between periods, Ice general manager Jeff Chynoweth mentioned Tim Bozon has been up and out of bed and walking around Royal University Hospital with his parents. Bozon has been hospitalized for the last three weeks in Saskatoon while battling meningitis.