The Kootenay Ice wrapped up a three-game tour at the Red Lion Hotels Pre-season Tournament in Kennewick, Wash., over the weekend, splitting their final two games against the Seattle Thunderbirds and Prince George Cougars.
Friday, the Ice squeaked out a 3-2 overtime win against the Seattle Thunderbirds, before falling 3-2 in overtime on Saturday to the Prince George Cougars.
“We feel all right, I think there’s a lot to work on still,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, Sunday afternoon. “We’re not looking at the results as much as the process.
“[Against Seattle] we didn’t play nearly as hard as we should have. But we responded real well in the third game [against Prince George], especially early on with an early start and third game in a short period of time.”
The Ice opened a 2-0 lead through 40 minutes against the Thunderbirds Friday afternoon as veteran forward Zak Zborosky started the scoring midway through the first period before Drew Warkentine tallied eight second into the second to boost the advantage heading into the final period.
Less than five minutes into the third, Ice defenceman Nathyn Mortlock caught a Thunderbirds player in the danger zone below the goal line. The heavy impact enticed a five-minute major and game misconduct for checking from behind as the 19-year-old native of Medicine Hat saw his afternoon end early.
Mortlock was eventually held out of Saturday’s game against the Prince George Cougars, as the Ice were informed by the WHL that supplemental discipline was coming down the pipe.
“It’s a tough break for Nathyn,” Pierce said. “I thought he played a real good game. He took some shifts up at forward in the second period and he was physical throughout. When you play on that fine line, sometimes you get caught.”
Pierce expects to hear a final verdict on Mortlock Monday morning.
Moments after Mortlock’s ejection, Warkentine was sent off for cross-checking.
On the ensuing man advantage, the Thunderbirds capitalized as Nolan Volcan beat Ice goaltender Declan Hobbs for the first time on the afternoon.
Less than 10 minutes later Nick Holowko tied the affair and the two teams were off to overtime.
“The first two periods, even though we had the lead, we probably weren’t very good,” Pierce said. “It started to catch up to us.
“All those things we weren’t doing well in the first two periods that we were getting away with — they bit us in the third. Overall, I thought we played better in the third, but it’s karma coming back to get you for not putting in the effort you need to at the start.”
In three-on-three extra time, it was an unlikely hero scoring the game-winner as import defenceman Mario Grman took advantage of a quick break before beating goaltender Taz Burman.
Interestingly enough, Grman and Burman find themselves wearing new colours in 2015-16 after spending the 2014-15 campaign as teammates with the Red Deer Rebels.
Burman made 13 saves on the afternoon as the Thunderbirds outshot the Ice 37-16. At the other end of the rink, Hobbs stood tall, making 35 saves to claim his first win of the pre-season.
“Real happy with Declan’s game,” Pierce said. “That was probably the game we got outplayed the worst and he was there for us, kept us in it and gave us a chance.”
Saturday saw a quick turnaround for the Ice, with a 12 p.m. puck drop against the Cougars coming only 20 hours after puck drop against the Thunderbirds.
Once again, the Ice were out front early as Matt Alfaro tallied a power-play marker in the first period to give the visitors a 1-0 edge.
Vince Loschiavo doubled the lead 4:03 into the third period, but for the second time in 24 hours, the Ice choked up the advantage as the Cougars clawed back with markers from Justin Almeida and import forward Bartek Bison.
Just as it looked three-on-three overtime was about the run out, Bison gave the Cougars the win, beating Ice goaltender Keelan Williams with 37 seconds remaining.
“I think we probably learned a lot more Saturday because of the good play,” Pierce said. “We were blocking shots and we were playing what you would call a typical road game, especially when you’re tired and all that.
“For me, the biggest lesson we need to take from it is our puck management. With a two-goal lead, we need to be a little more conservative and play a little more high percentage.”
Despite suffering his second loss of the pre-season Williams turned aside 34 of 37 shots as the Ice were outshot 37-16 by the Cougars.
At the other end of the rink, Patrick Gora and Tavin Grant split the outing between the pipes, each making seven saves and surrendering one goal.
Next up, the Ice face the Lethbridge Hurricanes Thursday night at 7 p.m. in Crowsnest Pass, Alta.
In the meantime, Pierce is looking forward to working on special teams and some other specific areas of the game.
The Ice roster remains at 31, though a handful of players are away from the club at various NHL camps.
As a result, Pierce doesn’t expect any more roster reductions before the conclusion of the Thunder Challenge in the Crowsnest Pass.
After facing the Hurricanes Thursday, the Ice take on the Calgary Hitmen Saturday night at 7 p.m.