After a midweek setback in Medicine Hat, the Kootenay Ice rediscovered their winning ways over the weekend, defeating the visiting Prince Albert Raiders 4-1 and the Calgary Hitmen 5-2 at Western Financial Place.
Saturday night recognized team captain Sam Reinhart, with fans lining up two hours before the puck drop to get their hands on one of 950 autographed bobble heads.
Then, five minutes into the contest against the Hitmen, fans got to see one of the rarest plays at any level of hockey.
With an empty net and six attackers on the ice on a delayed penalty, Kootenay forward Zach Franko made an errant pass back to the point from the corner that trickled down 200 feet and into a gaping cage. Hitmen goaltender Chris Driedger was the last Calgary player to touch the puck, and was subsequently awarded with the goal—the sixth goaltender in WHL history to collect one.
“When something like that happens, you laugh it off,” said Vetterl. “It’s kind of cool, because you’re probably never going to see it happen again, so it kind of sucks that it’s on your team.
“You kind of laugh it off, shrug it off, and get right back on it.”
Less than ten seconds later, after Hitmen forward Jake Virtanen went to the box and gave Kootenay the powerplay, Brady Brassart scored a shorthanded goal to make it a two-goal lead.
Ice head coach Ryan McGill juggled his lines, putting Tim Bozon up along with Reinhart and Jaedon Descheneau, while Franko paired up with Luke Philp and Austin Vetterl, and that seemed to spark the team.
Bozon put Kootenay on the board in the second period, sniping a drop pass from Descheneau in the offensive zone, while Vetterl one-timed a pass from Franko on an odd man rush to tie it up 2-2 by the end of the second period.
Early in the third period, Bozon tallied again, going bar down on Driedger after picking up a loose puck in the slot.
Calgary then got into some penalty trouble, making six consecutive trips to the sin bin, which seemed to take away their momentum, even though Kootenay failed to score on those powerplays.
“Obviously we would’ve liked to get those on the powerplay, make our lives a little easier down the stretch, but it definitely worked in our favour, we knew they were going to press, and we, for the most part, kept it in their end,” said Reinhart.
In the final minute, Descheneau and Vetterl both scored separate empty net goals to seal up the 5-2 win.
Ice goaltender Mackenzie Skapski made 21 saves for the win, while Driedger was credited with a goal and 26 stops.
Friday’s matchup with the Raiders featured a goaltending duel between Skapski and Prince Albert netminder Cole Cheveldave as it was scoreless late into the second period before both teams traded goals.
Dakota Conroy was first for the Raiders, sniping a shot from the inside hash marks in Kootenay territory, but Franko tied it up less than a minute later, banging in an slick feed from Reinhart while driving to the net.
“At the end of the second there, we started getting more pucks and more shots, we hadn’t really tested him [Cheveldave], until halfway through the second, but we did a good job of sticking with it, and I think it paid off,” said Philp.
In the third period, Reinhart and World Juniors Team Canada teammate Josh Morrissey mixed it up in the corner, before throwing down the gloves at centre ice for a brief scrap, making it a career-first fight for the Kootenay Ice captain.
Morrissey drew an extra unsportsmanlike minor on the play, and Kootenay’s powerplay went to work, capitalizing on a blast from Luke Philp at the side of the face-off circle.
“That fight with Sammy was a big play by him, even though he’s not known to do that,” said Skapski. “He drew a penalty and we capitalized.”
“…It was kind of a goaltending duel and there were chances each way and we ended up getting more pucks to the net and we capitalized on our opportunities.”
Kootenay held a 2-1 lead going into the final two minutes, but Bozon managed to find the empty net when the Raiders pulled Cheveldave for an extra attacker.
The Raiders goaltender headed back to the crease and was subsequently beat through the five hole by Zak Zborosky right after the face-off at centre ice.
The last time the Raiders were in Cranbrook, no penalties were called the entire game. This time around, save for the dustup between Morrissey and Reinhart, only one minor penalty was called.
The Eastern Conference is pretty tight but the Ice did climb out of eight place and into seventh, and are separated from fourth place by only three points.
Next action for the Ice are the Saskatoon Blades who will visit Western Financial Place on Tuesday night.