The Kootenay Ice opened the 2014-15 WHL regular season in Alberta this weekend, returning to Cranbrook with two of a possible four points.
Friday night in Red Deer, the Ice used a three-goal third period to escape the ENMAX Centrium with a victory over the Rebels.
Saturday night in Edmonton, the Oil Kings celebrated their 2014 WHL and Memorial Cup championships by out-working the Ice and sending the visitors away with a 4-2 defeat.
“We have to learn to compete on every night,” said Kootenay Ice assistant coach Jay Henderson Sunday evening. “I thought we were somewhat fortunate to come out of Red Deer with the win, and obviously we didn’t show up for the game against Edmonton.
“Them being the defending Memorial Cup champions and [hosting] their home-opener, there was obviously a big crowd there [at Rexall Place]. Other than our goalie [Wyatt Hoflin], not a lot of guys showed up.”
Friday’s game in Red Deer was a back-and-forth affair. Following the contest, Ice head coach Ryan McGill characterized his team’s play as “inconsistent” and “helter-skelter at times.”
The Rebels opened the scoring when RW Brooks Maxwell broke in alone and deposited a backhand-effort behind Hoflin for a short-handed marker.
RW Austin Vetterl replied midway through the first before RW Zak 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 C Meyer Nell cleaned up the rebound off another long Cote shot roughly two minutes later.
Veteran RW 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.
If there was one hero this weekend for the Ice, it was goaltender Wyatt Hoflin. The 19-year-old puck-stopper turned aside 28 shots Friday night, before facing an Edmonton Oil Kings firing squad that sent 35 pucks his way Saturday night. When all was said and done, the native of Spruce Grove, Alta. kept a grand total of 50 pucks from entering the Kootenay Ice cage over the weekend.
“Wyatt [Hoflin] gave us a chance to win that game [against Edmonton],” Henderson said. “We were able to make it 2-2 and, obviously, I don’t think we deserved that. But our goaltending was really good. He’s allowing us the opportunity to win and we need more guys on board right now if we’re going to find those wins.”
After import C Alexander Chirva opened the scoring with his first as a member of the Ice, the Oil Kings responded with two goals courtesy C Cole Benson and C Adam Koep to close out the first period with a 2-1 edge.
Ice D Bryan Allbee did the only scoring in the middle frame to pull Kootenay even heading into the final 20 minutes. Despite the Ice outshooting the hosts 12-6 in the closing frame, it was Edmonton who prevailed as Koep added his second marker of evening, which eventually stood as the game-winning tally. LW Tyler Robertson added an empty-net goal to close things out.
The Ice return to Western Financial Place this week intent on simplifying their game and refocusing ahead of Saturday’s rematch with the Rebels in Red Deer.
“We’re still fairly young and it’s a tough league. It’s hard to get wins in this league every night,” Henderson said. “I think it’s a learning process and, obviously, they saw how they need to compete Saturday night against Edmonton. It’s a learning curve. The quicker we pick up on that and learn to compete every night, the better we’re going to be.”
Notes: D Rinat Valiev underwent surgery on a lower-body injury this past Wednesday in Ontario. The injury isn’t considered to be serious and he is expected to be sidelined for three to four weeks. Valiev was attending Toronto Maple Leafs camp.