Kootenay Ice forward Zach Zborosky shoots high on Calgary Hitmen goaltender Chris Driedger during WHL action at Western Financial Place on Saturday.

Kootenay Ice forward Zach Zborosky shoots high on Calgary Hitmen goaltender Chris Driedger during WHL action at Western Financial Place on Saturday.

Ice suffer cracks in defensive corps

Kootenay loses key rearguards in weekend triple-header against Hitmen, Thunderbirds.

Jagger Dirk and the Kootenay Ice put in some overtime on the weekend.

Literally.

First in Calgary, where the Hitmen skated away with a 4-3 OT win on Friday night. Then the team lost rearguards Landon Peel and Tanner Faith to injury over the next two games, and Dirk and the rest of the defensive corps had to make do with only five bodies.

Kootenay managed to earn some revenge against Calgary with a 4-2 victory on home ice on Saturday, before dropping a 4-3 decision to the Seattle Thunderbirds on Sunday.

“Faither’s a very core guy, plays a lot of minutes and we rely heavily on him. Even with Peeler out too, he plays a lot of minutes and we rely on him too,” said Dirk, following Sunday’s game against Seattle.

“The rookies and the first-year guys are going to have to step up and make the most of their minutes and try to help the team win.”

Peel was scratched on Saturday, while Faith went hard into the boards on Sunday and was favouring his left shoulder when being helped off the ice by trainer Cory Cameron.

For three games in three nights, the team didn’t handle the mental and physical demands as well as they wanted to by the final contest, said Dirk, , one of two 20-year-old veterans on the team.

Especially on the defensive end, there was trouble moving puck in the on Sunday against Seattle.

“We gave a good push in the second and third, but in the first period, the D-corps wasn’t moving pucks as efficiently as we were the first two games,” Dirk said.

“I don’t know if that’s from a lack of mental concentration or lack of focus, but it’s unacceptable.”

Seattle, which was on a three-game road swing throughout the Central Division, won their first two against the Medicine Hat Tigers and the Lethbridge Hurricanes before sealing it up in Cranbrook against the Ice. The team features the 2012 1st overall bantam draft pick in Matt Barzal and Anaheim’s first-round selection in D-man Shea Theodore—both of whom put in a strong performance. Also former Ice forward Erik Benoit landed in Seattle as an overeager after getting released from the Saskatoon Blades.

The T-Birds jumped to a early two-goal lead on efforts from Roberts Lipsbergs and Mitch Elliot. However, Jon Martin shovelled the puck across the goal line during a scramble in front of the net by the time the opening period buzzer sounded.

Kootenay tied it up when Jaedon Descheneau found Reinhart in front of the net, who rang the puck off the post and in less than a minute into the second frame.

Barzal put Seattle back in the lead on a four-on-two rush in to the Kootenay zone a couple minutes later.

At the halfway mark of the period, the Reinhart and Descheneau duo struck again on the powerplay, when the latter received a pass all alone in front of T-Birds goalie Danny Mumaugh. Descheneau, showing great patience, faked forehand to backhand and tucked the puck past Mumaugh’s leg pad and into the goal.

“Our forwards need to do a good job of getting the puck behind their defencemen and working the cycle and wearing them down,” said Dirk, “so by the end of the second and third period, we’re creating more scoring chances because they’re tired and making  mental mistakes.”

The two teams remained locked at 3-3 into the final frame, but Justin Hickman took advantage of some misplays in the Kootenay zone, collecting the puck and firing it into the net with five minutes remaining.

It looked like the Ice tied it up with the extra attacker in the final minute, when Zach McPhee had a wide open net to shoot at, but Mumaugh made a spectacular sprawling glove save to keep Kootenay from forcing overtime.

Wyatt Hoflin got the start in goal for the Ice, making 34 saves in defeat, while Kootenay peppered 42 shots on Mumaugh.

Seattle has a lot of size on the roster, and they used it to set a physical tempo for most of the game.

“They’re a big team, but we coped pretty well, I thought, with the physical side,” noted Dirk. “But we don’t have to put ourselves in position to take big hits or get hit if we do move the puck efficiently and get it behind the the defencemen, so we just got to concentrate on doing those things consistently for a full 60 minutes.”

Prior to Sunday’s contest, the Ice had a home-and-home series with the Hitmen on Friday and Saturday.

It was a penalty-laden affair on Saturday, with eight powerplays for Kootenay and five for Calgary.

Kootenay took an early three-goal lead, first with a marker from Descheneau on the man-advantage, who scooped up a rebound to put it home.

The Ice were awarded with a two-man advantage for 1:26 in the second period, and Kootenay made Calgary bleed. First it was Luke Philp with a bullet slap shot from the point 14 seconds in, and then Reinhart rifled a shot off the iron and into the goal on the remaining powerplay.

Josh Thrower responded late in the period, and Virtanen tallied for the Hitmen in the final frame to pull within one, however, Martin sealed the win late in the game with a highlight reel goal.

Stealing the puck in the offensive zone, Martin headed to the corner, cut into the slot, and roofed a backhand shot over the shoulder of Driedger.

“The D had the puck there and I just chased him,” said Martin. “I guess he tried passing it, and I intercepted that pass and cut in, just pulled it in and went to the roof there, so it was good.

“A good feeling, it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s awesome.”

With three powerplay goals for the Ice, special teams was a huge factor in the game, said Dirk.

“We scored three power play goals. That was the difference-maker. They only scored one powerplay goal. Gives us a two-goal advantage,” Dirk said.

“It’s very important in this league. Games are won and lost on special teams.”

Skapski guarded the net for the Ice and made 26 saves for the win.

Earlier, on Friday night, Kootenay suffered a 4-3 OT loss after surrendering a two goal lead.

Descheneau and Dirk added early goals, before Brady Brassart and Jaynen Rissling responded for Calgary.

Descheneau got his second of the night but Greg Chase answered for the Hitmen with four minutes left in the game to force OT.

Kootenay took a penalty in the extra frame, and Rissling found the back of the net to win it for Calgary.

Skapski was in the crease for Kootenay, making 28 saves in a losing cause.

NOTES: Reinhart and Descheneau are ripping it up on the scoresheet. Reinhart currently has five goals and 11 assists for 16 points in six games, while Descheneau has tallied seven goals and seven assists for 14 points in six games. Reinhart is currently second in the WHL scoring race behind Mitch Holmberg of the Spokane Chiefs.