The Central Division-leading Lethbridge Hurricanes provide a tall enough task for the Kootenay Ice on the best of nights this season. Tuesday at Western Financial Place, the Ice took on the challenge of only having nine healthy forwards to deploy against the high-flying Hurricanes.
There wasn’t much an overpowered and outnumbered group could do but hang on for dear life.
When the ride was finally over, the Hurricanes skated away with a 7-2 victory.
“It’s a pretty remarkable challenge, there’s no question,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, following Tuesday’s loss. “I don’t think it matters who you are, what players they are — that number of bodies… it’s pretty next to impossible to compete.
“But there were some simple mistakes that have nothing to do with a lack of bodies or fatigue, just things we have to get better at.”
Tanner Lishchynsky and Max Patterson provided scoring for the Ice, while Cory Millette, Giorgio Estephan, Jordy Bellerive, Ryan Vandervlis, Arvin Atwal and Tyler Wong responded for the Hurricanes.
Between the pipes, Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin did all he could for as long as he could, turning aside 36 of the 43 pucks sent his way. At the other end, Stuart Skinner made 24 saves for his career-high 25th victory of the campaign.
“We just got pucks deep,” said Vandervlis, who finished the night with a goal and two assists to his credit. “We got down 1-0 but we stuck to our game plan, got on the body and threw pucks at the net.”
Despite the lack of bodies, the Ice battled to keep the contest within reach up until the last moment of the second period.
After two great scoring chances for the Ice courtesy Zak Zborosky and Vince Loschiavo, the Hurricanes picked up the puck after Loschiavo’s attempt missed high.
Brayden Burke lugged it the length of the ice before feeding Vandervlis, who deposited it off the odd-man rush with less than a second remaining in the period.
Two missed opportunities at one end compounded with capitalizing at the other, at the Hurricanes took a 4-1 advantage to the dressing room after 40 minutes of play.
“The whole game can be summed up in what-ifs,” Pierce said. “What if we score on that 2-on-1 at the net? What if we score on a couple great chances on the power play? What if we get out of the first period 1-1? What if we make a better play on that 2-on-1 with point whatever seconds left? Or back it up six seconds and hit the net, have a faceoff in their end — now you’re out of the [second] period 3-1 and you’re starting to press.
“You can say, ‘What if you had more players?’ But it doesn’t do us any good.”
Midway through the third period, Patterson pulled the Ice back within a pair after sending a quick shot from the slow slot past Skinner to make it 4-2.
“They play fast, physical and strong,” Patterson said of the Hurricanes. “We need to play smarter in order to play with them through a 60-minute game.
“You can’t take winning for granted. Every night it’s going to be a battle. Every game, you need to play your best.”
But the boost was brief as Bellerive tallied his second of the night only 55 seconds later to restore the three-goal advantage and kickstart the onslaught.
Atwal scored exactly 60 seconds later to make it 6-2 and Wong piled on less than two minutes after that to push the score to 7-2.
Lishchynsky opened the scoring, sending a rebound high over the shoulder of Skinner for a 1-0 Ice lead.
From there, the undermanned home team did all it could to build energy early in the proceedings.
Off the ensuing faceoff, Carter Folk skated in alone on Hoflin, who laid out for a critical save to preserve the one-goal lead.
Moments later, Mario Grman levelled Folk with a heavy, clean hit at centre ice.
Coming to his teammate’s aid, Brady Reagan dropped the mitts, engaging in a spirited tilt with the Ice import. The two went blow for blow over an extended scrap before Reagan landed a heavy shot to drop Grman, who immediately left via the tunnel. Grman missed a few shifts, but returned to action later in the period.
After giving it a go late in the first period, Grman was ultimately unable to continue, leaving Pierce undermanned on the blueline for the final 40 minutes of the night.
“It was just his nose as far as I could tell,” Pierce said. “But man, that kid is a warrior. He is a tough kid. Give him credit — he came back out and tried to play, I think he tried three or four shifts, but he couldn’t breathe. Pretty tough to play, but give him credit for trying.
“In the situation we’re in, I think some lesser men probably would have shut it down, but he did everything he could to play.”
As the period wore on, the Hurricanes took a hold of puck possession and turned the game in their favour.
Hoflin was able to swallow up a few good scoring opportunities, including a great one from the slot courtesy Wong, but eventually Millette parked himself on the doorstep and redirected a Vandervlis shot from the circle to tie the game 1-1.
The Hurricanes took the lead 2:30 after Millette tied it, as Estephan forced a turnover at the Ice blueline. Collecting the loose rubber, the Buffalo Sabres’ prospect skated in alone on Hoflin and burned a hot wrist shot to the back of the net for a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.
With the win, the Hurricanes improved to 44-21-1-1 on the season, remaining three points ahead of the Red Deer Rebels (42-22-1-2) for first place in the WHL’s Central Division.
Next up, the Hurricanes and Rebels meet in a home-and-home this weekend that will weigh heavily into the outcome atop the division.
“We’re not really worrying about the other teams we’re in that race with,” Vandervlis said. “We’re just focusing on our own game… We can only control our own destiny, so as long as we’re not worrying too much about what they’re doing and just worrying about our game, we’ll be fine.
“[The home-and-home] is huge, but at the same time, it’s just another two hockey games. We’re still three points up on them, so we’re in a good spot going in. We know if we play our game, we’ll be fine.”
For the Ice, Tuesday’s loss drops the squad to a WHL-worst 10-51-6-0. Next on the docket is a home-and-home with the Medicine Hat Tigers (26-35-3-2) beginning on the road Friday, before returning to Western Financial Place Saturday.
Notes: Kootenay Ice RW Austin Gray (illness) returned to the lineup after missing six games… The Ice were without the services of D Troy Murray (neck), RW Roman Dymacek (lower body), RW Jaedon Descheneau (shoulder), RW Austin Wellsby (upper body), C Matt Alfaro (upper body) and C Dylan Stewart (concussion)… Alfaro spent his third consecutive game behind the bench as an assistant coach… The Hurricanes went without D Calen Addison, D Nick Watson, LW Egor Babenko (upper body) and C Justin Gutierrez (upper body)… 1,786 was the announced attendance on 2-for-1 Tuesday at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook…
Tuesday, March 8
Lethbridge Hurricanes 7 at Kootenay Ice 2
First Period1. KTN – T. Lishchynsky (7) (M. Patterson, J. Wenzel), 5:282. LET – C. Millette, (32) (R. Vandervlis, G. Estephan), 14:553. LET – G. Estephan, (30) (unassisted), 18:25
Second Period4. LET – J. Bellerive, (9) (K. Pankewicz), 4:41 (SH)5. LET – R. Vandervlis, (8) (B. Burke, B. Reagan), 19:59
Third Period6. KTN – M. Patterson, (5) (A. Gray), 11:207. LET – J. Bellerive, (10) (D. Thunder Chief, B. Duperreault), 12:158. LET – A. Atwal, (9) (R. Vandervlis, G. Estephan), 13:159. LET – T. Wong, (38) (B. Burke, A. Atwal), 15:11
Shots 1 2 3 TLethbridge Hurricanes 13 17 13 43Kootenay Ice 9 11 6 26
Goaltenders Saves Mins SV%LET – Stuart Skinner 24/26 60:00 0.923KTN – Wyatt Hoflin 36/43 60:00 0.837
Power playsLethbridge Hurricanes 0/3 (00.0%)Kootenay Ice 0/4 (00.0%)
Daily Townsman Three Stars1) C Ryan Vandervlis, Lethbridge Hurricanes (1G, 2A);2) C Jordy Bellerive, Lethbridge Hurricanes (2G, plus-2);3) RW Max Patterson, Kootenay Ice (1G, 1A)
Attendance: 1,786 (Western Financial Place)