Western Financial Place was a sea of pink on Saturday night, as the biggest crowd in more than two years turned out for School Spirit Night to cheer on the Kootenay Ice and take a stand against bullying.
Levi Cable had a goal and an assist and goaltender Mackenzie Skapski made 35 saves to lead the Ice to a 4-2 win over the Medicine Hat Tigers.
It was what the team needed after falling 4-1 to the Red Deer Rebels on Friday night, as the Ice were beaten down by an aggressive Rebel forecheck that forced a lot of defensive zone errors.
“It was a big bounce-back win for us,” said Ice head coach Ryan McGill. “We didn’t have a lot of mental energy yesterday and I think the guys came to the rink today energized and it certainly showed in the first 40 minutes, for sure, and then in the last 10 minutes, I thought we did a good job of keeping them to the outside—I know they scored that goal, but it went off somebody’s chest—so they didn’t outwork us and that’s a good sign.”
School Spirit Night had an announced attendance of 4,016, which is the largest regular season crowd in a couple of years,with kids from elementary, middle and high school coming out and wearing pink for Pink Shirt Day, which takes a stand against bullying.
Luckily, no fights broke out on the ice.
Sam Reinhart kicked off the scoring seven minutes into the game, banging in a fat rebound off a shot from Jagger Dirk at the point.
Late in the opening period, Luke Philp doubled the lead when he rushed the net and tipped a cross-ice pass from Levi Cable past Tigers goaltender Cam Lanigan.
Brock Montgomery had the hit of the game when he cruised into the offensive zone corner and levelled Ty Stanton in an open-ice collision just off the corner boards.
However, the Tigers managed to get on the board in the second period, when Boston Leier walked in from the blue line an put a low shot past Mackenzie Skapski on the powerplay.
Ten minutes later, the Ice restored the two goal lead when Austin Vetterl, who was deep in the Tigers’ zone, fed Tanner Faith at the point. Faith drifted in and ripped a low shot for his second career WHL goal.
“I looked, looked, looked, and finally I saw Faither backdoor, so I passed it over and he had about 10 seconds to put it in, so all in all it was a good job by everyone,” said Vetterl.
The Ice nearly did more damage when Jon Martin put a shot off the post—the Ice forward even half-raised his arms in celebration—but there was no goal.
The Ice tapered off a bit in the third period, as Medicine Hat played some desperation hockey in order to erase their deficit.
However, Kootenay was still dangerous, as Philp nearly scored again on the exact same type of play for his goal, while Vetterl had a shorthanded breakaway.
“You don’t get many of those, that’s probably my second-ever breakaway,” said Vetterl. “Once the puck started rolling, I started to panic and I just went to the backhand and it kind of rolled up on me again. He made a nice save.”
The Tigers pulled Lanigan for the extra attacker and were rewarded after a shot went of the chest of a Medicine Hat player and deflected past the goal line.
After the face-off at centre ice, Medicine Hat pulled the goaltender again, but Cable managed to chip the puck by the defenceman at the Ice blue line, and beat another Tigers’ player in a footrace to score the empty netter.
Jaffray Elementary Junior Secondary School, T.M. Roberts Elementary School and St. Mary’s Catholic Independent School each won $500, which was donated by Western Financial Group, for showing the most school spirit during the night. Every other school that participated also took away $250, on behalf of Murray Floyd at Flaman Fitness.
The team was definitely feeding off the energy provided by a packed house, said Vetterl.
“It’s huge. They’re cheering hard, they’re pumping you up, they give that little extra that you seem to get when they’re here. That always helps out a bit and we like that,” he added.
The win over the Tigers eliminated the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Regina Pats from the playoffs.
It was a better game than the prior night, as the Ice melted under a withering forecheck from Brent Sutter’s Rebels.
Cory Millette scored twice for the Rebels, while Brooks Maxwell and Rhyse Dieno rounded out the rest of the goals.
Jaedon Descheneau had the only goal for the Ice. Skapski made 22 saves, while Patrik Bartosak turned away 21 shots for the Rebels.
“They kind of play a similar style as us,” said Ice defenceman Tanner Muth. “They work really hard and they back check so our forwards aren’t given a lot of time and we’re not getting a lot of time on the defensive end either.
“They’re fast, they work hard and they play a good system, so playing against them is always a tough game.”
Millette got his first early in the opening period, stuffing a rebound past Skapski. Hayden Fleury hit the post in the following frame, while Bartosak robbed Philp in the slot.
Descheneau tied up the game near the halfway mark, tipping a shot from Joey Leach at the point.
However, two minutes later, Millette struck again when he collected the puck in the offensive zone and beat Skapski on a wraparound.
Maxwell made it a two-goal lead for Red Deer in the final period, beating Skapski after taking a slap pass from Turner Elson at the point.
Rhyse Dieno added an empty net goal with 77 seconds remaining in the affair.
Kootenay has seven games left in the regular season—five are against divisional teams. The Ice hit the road for another rematch against the Rebels in Red Deer on Tuesday night.