Inconsistency continues to plague the Kootenay Ice. After splitting the final two games of a weekend road trip through Saskatchewan, the Ice cling to the second and final wild-card slot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill liked what he saw Friday night in a 5-2 victory over the Prince Albert Raiders.
But 24 hours later in a 3-2 loss to the Saskatoon Blades, it was a different story.
“We did a real good job Friday,” McGill said Sunday afternoon. “Saturday, we seemed like a disinterested hockey team.
“The level of consistency from everybody just wasn’t there. Unfortunately, we’re rolling here behind the eight ball. We’re going to have to get moving. Every point matters right now.”
Through 45 games, McGill and the Ice hold a three-point cushion and two games in hand on the Moose Jaw Warriors for the second and final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Friday in Prince Albert, the Ice used a four-goal outburst in the third period to break a 1-1 tie en route to a 5-2 victory over the Raiders.
Luke Philp opened the scoring in the first period and started the third-period onslaught.
Zak Zborosky scored what stood as the eventual game-winning goal, while Ryan Chynoweth and Jaedon Descheneau piled on to make it 5-1 for the Ice.
Import forward Simon Stransky tallied late in the period for the Raiders to round out the scoring.
Raiders goaltender Rylan Parenteau faced a barrage of shots, turning aside 38 of the 43 pucks directed his way by the Ice. At the other end, Wyatt Hoflin was steady in making 28 saves for his 22nd win of the campaign.
Rookie forward River Beattie opened the scoring Saturday in Saskatoon, tallying his third of the season late in the second period.
After Josh Uhrich knotted the game less than five minutes into the third period, defenceman Nolan Reid followed up 64 seconds later to give the Blades a 2-1 advantage.
Captain Sam Reinhart, who registered two assists in Friday’s win over Prince Albert, pulled the visitors even with less than three minutes remaining in regulation.
While the goal was a big one to provide his club with a shot at overtime, it was also the 287th point of Reinhart’s WHL career, catapulting him past Kootenay Ice alumnus Jarret Stoll to the top of the Kootenay Ice franchise scoring charts. (More to come on Reinhart’s achievement later this week in the Daily Townsman.)
Unfortunately for Reinhart and the Ice, the jubilation was short-lived.
Outnumbered one-on-two in the dying moments of the third period, Blades forward Wyatt Sloboshan skated into the offensive zone before zinging a shot off the post and past Hoflin, giving his team a 3-2 edge with only 11 seconds remaining in regulation.
“You feel like you have the right people on the ice, defencemen in particular,” McGill said. “It looks like it’s one player coming through the neutral zone. Two defencemen have a total lack of commitment to playing hard against him [Sloboshan] and the guy took advantage of it.
“To me, in that respect, that’s embarrassing.”
McGill yanked Hoflin in favour of the extra attacker for the final 11 seconds, but there wasn’t enough time remaining on the clock as the Ice fell to the Blades for the second time in seven days.
For Blades rookie Brock Hamm, he stopped 26 shots to earn his second win in as many career starts, both coming against the Ice.
A week prior, the Ice dropped a 6-4 decision to the Blades at Western Financial Place, marking Hamm’s first-career WHL start and victory.
The win boosted the Blades to 12-29-2-1, pushing them past the Lethbridge Hurricanes (10-27-3-3) into 21st place in the WHL’s overall standings.
The Kootenay Ice power play continued to struggle on the road this past week, going a combined 0-for-8 in three games through Saskatchewan, after going 0-for-4 on home ice Jan. 9 and 10.
Under better circumstance, a team returns home and has a full week of practice to work on areas such as the power play prior to seeing its next action. That’s not the case for McGill and his squad as the Vancouver Giants visit Cranbrook Tuesday night, before the Ice travel to Edmonton for a special 11:30 a.m. puck drop Thursday against the Oil Kings.
“It’s a fine line,” McGill said of the quick turnaround. “Our power play has gone south. Our penalty killing has been very much under average. When that happens, you like to think you could get out on the ice and practice, but with playing 12 games in 23 days, you draw a fine line with rest.”
The Ice are five games into the 12-game stretch McGill referred to, having kicked things off Jan. 9 against the Red Deer Rebels. The heavy schedule wraps up Jan. 31 when the Kelowna Rockets visit Western Financial Place.