The Land of Living Skies is quickly turning into the Land of Living Nightmares for the Kootenay Ice.
After what head coach Luke Pierce characterized as a “heartbreaking loss” in Prince Albert, the Kootenay Ice travelled to Saskatoon, only to suffer a crushing 7-2 defeat at the hands of the Blades Wednesday.
“To me these are games that show your true character,” Pierce said over the phone from Saskatoon following Wednesday’s loss. “It’s 5-1, 6-1 and guys want to pack it in and hide somewhere on our bench. You look at our opponent, they’re winning 6-1 and they’ve got guys still blocking shots and winning races.
“It was as bad as it looked on the scoreboard. Usually you’re trying to find something. There’s nothing to salvage from that. One positive thing is that we got a first-hand lesson on how to work. I give Saskatoon full marks. Those guys compete hard on everything. It didn’t matter if they were up by five or six [goals], they were competing and sacrificing and finishing checks. That’s what we need to get to.
“We’ve given this group quite a bit of leeway early on, just to be patient with them. But if they’re not going to be responsible enough with that, we’ve got to change the rules.”
After Blades centre Cameron Hebig opened the scoring, Ice right wing Max Patterson registered his first-career Western Hockey League goal to provide some early life for the visitors, tying the game 1-1 midway through the first period.
“Max’s goal was a big goal for us,” Pierce said of his 15-year-old rookie. “At that point, we were still very much in it. Max has been a bright spot for us. I think even his teammates have recognized that. He does a lot of the right things.”
After that, everything came unravelled.
Courtesy captain Nick Zajac and a second for Hebig, the Blades tallied twice to end the first period and took a 3-1 lead into the dressing room.
In the middle period, it was Josh Uhrich registering a pair of goals and the Blades were out in front 5-1 after 40 minutes, spelling the end of the night for Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin.
The 20-year-old veteran puck-stopper managed 14 saves on 19 shots, but wasn’t the only one responsible for the large deficit after two periods.
“Our team just wasn’t there in front of him and that’s just not fair to Wyatt,” Pierce said. “He’s been a guy who’s worked pretty hard here and his teammates just weren’t there for him today. It’s not fair to leave him in, but at the same time, a couple of those early [goals] he’s trying to do too much and overplaying them.
“He’s there as a 20-year-old goalie for a reason. We need him to give us chances early in games. For the most part, he’s done that all year, but tonight, we tried to lean on him too hard early and it wasn’t working.”
Saskatoon native Declan Hobbs was sent to the crease for the final 20 minutes of play and only 42 seconds passed before the Blades victimized him as Mason McCarty redirected a long point shot to make it 6-1.
The long night wasn’t quite over.
Blades left wing Nikita Soshnin added one final dagger.
Overshadowed by the 7-2 outcome was the first-career WHL goal of Ice left wing Roman Dymacek.
The native of Hodonin, Czech Republic, went hard to the net and was rewarded with less than four minutes remaining in regulation.
“His goal was a product of finally doing something the right way — he drove the net hard and was determined,” Pierce said. “But the other 59-1/2 minutes tonight, he just wasn’t there.”
By the final buzzer, the Blades had outscored the Ice 7-2 on the strength of outshooting the visitors 32-18.
Hobbs was good on 11 of 13 shots in relief of Hoflin.
At the other end of the rink, Blades goaltender Nik Amundrud was almost a forgotten competitor, making 16 saves on 18 shots.
Adding injury to insult for the Ice was the loss of defenceman Cale Fleury in the second period. The 16-year-old blue-liner was knocked out of action by an upper-body injury and didn’t return for the third period. He isn’t expected to be available for the duration of this four-game eastern swing for the Ice.
The Ice also lost right wing Jaedon Descheneau to injury Tuesday night and he also isn’t expected to be available until after the conclusion of the road trip.
Life doesn’t get any easier for the Ice as they visit the Brandon Wheat Kings — the fourth-ranked club in all of Canada — Friday.
Notes: The Ice scratched G Keelan Williams, D Jason Wenzel, D Tanner Lishchynsky (knee, day to day) and D Tyler King (knee, indefinite) Wednesday night…