The Calgary Hitmen and Kootenay Ice battled to a tight series through three games, but that all changed Wednesday night in Game 4 of the WHL’s Eastern Conference Quarter-final.
Hitmen forward Connor Rankin registered his first-career WHL post-season hat-trick to fuel the offence as Calgary out skated the Kootenay Ice en route to a 7-2 victory and 3-1 series lead.
“I don’t think we came out with quite the same energy level that we had last night. Obviously with a day off [Thursday], hopefully that helps us,” said Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill.
“Energy is an individual aspect of the game. It has nothing to do with rolling four lines. It has nothing to do with match-ups. Energy is individual and I didn’t think, collectively as individuals, that we had a lot of energy in the first five, six minutes of the game when we need to establish the game plan.”
A 6-foot native of North Vancouver, Rankin opened the scoring by going to the net and depositing an Adam Tambellini rebound only 1:12 into the Wednesday night festivities.
“We were flat right from the start,” said Kootenay Ice forward Luke Philp. “For whatever reason, we weren’t getting after it to start and they were the better team from the get-go tonight.”
The 20-year-old Rankin struck early in the second period, as Tambellini wheeled through the high slot before sending a beautiful pass to Rankin on the doorstep. There was little for Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin to do on the play as Rankin made it a 3-1 game.
Round three for Rankin came on the man advantage midway through the second period, as the winger wired a wrist shot that eluded Hoflin high and gave the visitors a commanding 5-1 lead.
“With an 8-7 game [Tuesday], we wanted to clean up a bunch of stuff even though we got the win,” Rankin said. “But tonight was just a great team performance. I think a lot of guys had really good personal games and it led to team success tonight.
“We have the mindset that we can win anywhere. We definitely proved it [Wednesday] getting back-to-back wins here…We definitely put ourselves in a good spot.”
Jaedon Descheneau got the hosts on the board late in the first period, sending a slap shot through Hitmen goaltender Brendan Burke to make it a 2-1 game, but that’s as close as the Ice came in Game 4.
“They’ve got good physical ‘D’ back there and they make it hard for you to get to the net,” Philp said. “But we’ve got to do a better job getting pucks and bodies to the net. [Wednesday] we didn’t do a good enough job of generating chances from [getting bodies and pucks to the net].”
Tambellini continued his torrid scoring pace, adding a goal and three assists to take hold of the overall scoring lead in the WHL post-season, with five goals and nine points to his credit.
Burke stuck it out in net for the full 60 minutes Wednesday night, turning aside 27 of the 29 shots sent his way.
At the other end, Hoflin was victimized six times on 41 shots, with Tambellini tallying an empty-net goal.
After opening the series 2-for-5 (40-per-cent success rate) on the man advantage, the Ice power play came to a crash halt in Games 3 and 4, as Kootenay went a combined 0-for-7 with the extra man on home ice.
“Just simplify it, not think too much,” Philp said of kick-starting the power play. “Take opportunities to shoot the puck. Take what they give us, not look for anything too fancy.”
On the other side of the equation, the Calgary Hitmen power play has hummed along consistently since Game 1, going a combined 6-for-17 (35.3-per-cent success rate) through four games.
The Ice now face a 3-1 hole in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarter-final while the Hitmen look at their first opportunity to eliminate Kootenay when Game 5 goes at the Scotiabank Saddledome Friday night.
Notes: Kootenay Ice F Jon Martin (undisclosed) and F Zak Zborosky (undisclosed) missed Game 4 due to injury. Zborosky played Games 1 and 2 in Calgary before sitting out Game 3 Tuesday night…Ice D Tanner Faith (shoulder, three to five months) was the other scratch for the Ice… The Hitmen went without D Jake Bean (lower body, day to day) and F Beck Malenstyn (upper body) and also scratched G Kyle Dumba (AP), D Aaron Hyman (AP) and F Layne Bensmiller…There were a grand total of 2,147 fans in attendance for Game 4 at Western Financial Place (up from 2,126 in Game 3) as not even an electrifying 8-7 overtime thriller was enough to entice hockey fans to take in Wednesday’s game…