The Kootenay Ice got away with a lacklustre performance the last time they visited Red Deer. The Rebels weren’t about to let that happen twice in a row on home ice.
“At the end of the day, you have to figure out if you want to compete,” said Ice assistant coach Jay Henderson Sunday evening. “It’s a 72-game season, you can’t pick and choose when you want to show up.
“I get it’s a long bus ride [to Red Deer] but there’s no excuse for [what happened Saturday night].”
The Ice (1-2-0-0) suffered their worst defeat of the still young 2014-15 WHL season Saturday night as the Red Deer Rebels (2-1-0-0) dismantled their opponents in a 7-1 shellacking before 5,056 spectators at ENMAX Centrium.
Rebels forward Conner Bleackley, freshly returned from Colorado Avalanche training camp, turned in a three-point performance and Presten Kopeck contributed two goals in the win.
By the time the game was four minutes old, Red Deer was out to a 2-0 lead courtesy Grayson Pawlenchuk and Meyer Nell. Bleackley made it 3-0 when he scored his first of the season with six seconds remaining in the opening frame.
The Rebels outshot the Ice 18-3 through the first 20 minutes of play and, ultimately, it was all the hosts needed to put the visitors to rest.
“Even going back to the Edmonton game [4-2 L vs. Oil Kings, Sept. 27], we had four shots in the first [period], four shots in the second [period],” Henderson said. “You’re not going to win many games…when you’re only getting four shots a period.
“And that [comes down to] puck possession and competing to get the puck back when you do lose it. You get tired of talking about compete but, bottom line, that’s what it comes down to.”
Kopeck added a power-play marker 1:20 into the closing frame to make it 4-0 Red Deer, erasing any opportunity for a Kootenay comeback. The 19-year-old ice his first-star performance with a short-handed tally later in the third period.
The lone bright spot for the Ice came when centre man Kyle O’Connor broke Rylan Toth’s shutout bid 7:37 into the third period. Toth made 17 saves to earn his second win of the season.
At the other end of the rink, Wyatt Hoflin suffered through 45:15 in ice time, turning aside 26 of the 31 shots he faced. Rookie Keelan Williams was then thrown into the fire, making seven saves on nine shots through the remainder of the third period.
Kootenay D Troy Murray was a team-worst minus-four at the end of the night. Rookie forwards Jared Legien and Vince Loschiavo were both minus-three at the end of the night.
“At some point, there’s going to have to be [consequences],” Henderson said. “At the end of the day, things have to change here pretty quick. I know we’re only three games in [to the season] but it seems like every time we talk, we talk about compete and that’s the issue. That’s what it comes down to.”
The Ice will get an opportunity to turn things around Friday night when they hit the ice in Cranbrook for the first time this season, playing host to the Spokane Chiefs (2-0-0-0). From there, it’s back on the road as Kootenay visits the Calgary Hitmen (1-2-0-0) Oct. 4. Life doesn’t get easier from there. The Ice then embark on a three-game road trip over three nights, facing the Regina Pats Oct. 8, the Moose Jaw Warriors Oct. 9 before concluding the Saskatchewan swing with an Oct. 10 date in Swift Current against the Broncos.
Notes: The Ice were without veteran forward Luke Philp Saturday in Red Deer. The 19-year-old pivot was bothered by what the team classified as a day-to-day lower-body injury throughout the week. It was initially expected he would be good to go against the Rebels.
Sunday afternoon the team announced the release of forward Shane Allan and defenceman Mark O’Shaughnessy. The moves reduce Kootenay’s roster to 24, including two goaltenders, eight defencemen and 14 forwards. Both Allan and O’Shaughnessy were scratches Saturday night.