One bad period, 20 minutes of unpreparedness is all it took to sink the Kootenay Ice Tuesday night at Western Financial Place.
The visiting Saskatoon Blades showed up ready to play and scored three times in the opening period en route to a decisive 5-1 victory.
“I’m dumbfounded,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, following Tuesday’s loss. “We talked a lot about what to be prepared for and what to expect. We were still having our pre-game nap when the game started. It’s unacceptable and I’ll take responsibility for my portion of preparing our team. Obviously they didn’t listen to our message. Myself and Gord [assistant coach Burnett] have to be accountable to that. It’s disappointing.
“I think part of it is us over thinking who we are or under thinking our opponent. I think guys were outside their heads today, all worried about who’s on what line and who is going to be on the power play and who is playing with who.
“Just go play the game. If you play well, you’ll be rewarded for it. It’s a pretty simple matter.”
Blades veteran Terrell Draude kick-started the scoring only 2:18 into the festivities, sending a long shot that appeared to redirect past Ice goaltender Declan Hobbs for a 1-0 Saskatoon lead.
In the latter stages of the opening period, Blades captain Nick Zajac put two more daggers on the board, ultimately giving the visitors all the offense necessary to win Tuesday night.
First, Ice defenceman Troy Murray coughed up a costly turnover at centre ice, which was quickly pounced upon and turned the other way by Blades savvy veteran Connor Gay.
A quick pass to the 20-year-old Zajac led to a nifty move in tight and the native of Headingly, Man., had doubled his team’s advantage in the blink of an eye.
As seems to happen all too often with this year’s edition of the Kootenay Ice, the opponent found a way to strike late in a period, with Zajac once again the culprit inflicting the damage.
With Ice sophomore Vince Loschiavo serving a minor penalty for delay of game after putting the puck over the glass and out of play, Zajac parked his 5-foot-10, 180-pound frame in front of Hobbs on the power play.
A point shot from Blades import defenceman Libor Hajek was booted out by Hobbs, but Zajac was there to swat the rebound home for a commanding 3-0 lead with only 51 seconds remaining in the period.
“It didn’t seem like everyone was ready to go,” said Ice defenceman Tanner Lishchynsky, who earlier in the day was named the 20th captain in Kootenay Ice franchise history (see Thursday’s Townsman/Bulletin for a feature on Lishchynsky and the Ice captaincy). “I take that on myself. I try to get guys ready to go and I’ve got to do a better job of that.
“We weren’t ready for them and how hard they were going to come out. That was our biggest downfall in the game.”
The situation only got worse from there for the Ice.
After failing to convert on a power-play opportunity that stretched across the final 24 seconds of the first period and into the early stages of the second, the Ice got into penalty trouble midway through the middle period.
In sequence, Roman Dymacek was sent off for interference 4:53 in. With only 1:18 having elapsed on the penalty to the Czech national, Ice defenceman Ryan Pouliot was then tagged for a high-sticking minor, giving the Blades 42 seconds of 5-on-3 power-play time.
Just as the Ice had finished killing the Dymacek minor, Lishchynsky was caught for cross-checking in front of his own net and sent to the sin bin with 1:07 remaining in the minor to Pouliot.
Give most teams that much consecutive time with a two-man power play and they will eventually find a way to convert.
Defenceman Dustin Perillat, making his Blades debut after being acquired from the Moose Jaw Warriors Jan. 4, hammered a point shot through a crowd. The puck found the back of the net with only 10 seconds remaining in Pouliot’s infraction.
The 5-on-3 goal gave the visitors a 4-0 lead and spelled the end of the night for Hobbs, who surrendered four goals on 22 shots. Veteran Wyatt Hoflin entered the game in relief.
“The penalty problems, some of them come from frustration and they’re unnecessary,” Pierce said. “But we should have had that type of emotion to start the game with and you probably kill them off because you know guys are just working. But then they look like they’re just frustration penalties and we don’t kill them.
“We smothered them for about 10 minutes in the second period there after we got through the penalty trouble. To me, that’s not something that’s positive. It’s something that’s an expectation. There’s absolutely no reason you can’t do that at the start of the game and finish it out.”
Ice right winger Jesse Zaharichuk gave his club a momentary spark midway through the period with a great solo effort in the offensive zone.
After jumping on a loose puck just inside the blueline, the 18-year-old native of Sherwood Park, Alta., zigged and zagged his way towards the net before dishing off to Matt Alfaro, who was left with a wide-open cage to shoot at.
The tally went up as Alfaro’s 13th of the campaign and extended Zaharichuk’s point streak (2-5-7) to four games.
A relatively uneventful third period saw the Ice fail to muster much of anything productive on the power play.
Blades forward Ryan Graham was sent off for tripping only 1:16 into the final period but the Ice were unable to manage a single shot on the ensuing advantage.
Midway through the third period, Cameron Hausinger was ticketed for kneeing, giving the Ice a third power-play. Once again, there was nothing much to speak of in terms of scoring opportunities and the Blades coasted the rest of the way.
Blades newcomer Braylon Shmyr put an exclamation point on the victory, hammering an absolute laser of a shot off the iron behind Hoflin’s glove with only 1:39 remaining in the game.
At the end of the night, Hoflin was good on 18 of the 19 shots he faced in mop-up duty.
At the other end of the rink, Blades goaltender Brock Hamm was steady as he made 23 saves for his 12th win of the season.
With the loss, the Ice fall to 8-33-3-0.
The victory boosted the Blades to 16-23-3-0 and within four points of the Edmonton Oil Kings (17-20-5-0) for the final wild-card slot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
Next up, the Ice face the Prince Albert Raiders (24-14-3-1) Friday night (7 p.m.) at Western Financial Place.
The Blades carry on to visit the Spokane Chiefs (19-17-3-2) Wednesday.
Notes: The Ice were without RW Jaedon Descheneau (shoulder, indefinite), C Noah Philp (lower body, day to day) and D Dallas Hines Tuesday night… The Blades went without the services of D Jake Kustra, C Cameron Hebig (upper body, day to day) and C Luke Gingras… Tuesday’s tilt saw 1,801 spectators in attendance on 2-for-1 night at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook…