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Hitmen overcome Ice in season finale
Murphy’s Law—anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
The Kootenay Ice slipped to sixth place in the Eastern Conference after their grip on fifth loosened due to a pair of losses against the Calgary Hitmen in a home and home finale this weekend.
With Swift Current snapping at their heels, Kootenay needed either some wins or the Broncos to lose. However, Calgary didn’t make things easy, and Swift Current beat up on the Warriors to finish two points ahead of the Ice and climb up to fifth place.
The regular-season finale between the Ice and the Hitmen was a preview of the first round of the playoffs, as the two teams drew each other after the dust settled from the weekend’s results around the league.
After surrendering a trio of goals on Friday, the Ice battled back to regain the lead, only to have the game end 5-4 in favour of the Hitmen following a shootout.
“We battled back in, but it wasn’t enough and it’s definitely a sour feeling,” said Ice captain Sam Reinhart.
It was a tough night for Kootenay goaltender Mackenzie Skapski, who was beat for two goals after costly giveaways in the defensive zone. Backup Wyatt Hoflin went in after the third goal in the second period to play out the remainder of the game.
Brady Brassart, Joe Mahon, Jake Virtanen, and Greg Chase scored in regulation for Calgary, while Reinhart and Luke Philp both tallied a pair of goals to provide offence for Kootenay.
The Calgary forecheck forced two turnovers in Kootenay territory in the first period to go up 2-0. First it was Brassart who scored, shovelling in a rebound after a giveaway, while Mahone took advantage of a bad bounce off an Ice defender’s skate to double the lead.
Virtanen scored a bizarre goal on a sharp angle shot in the second period, and that would be it for Skapski in net.
Kootenay organized a response in the latter half of the frame; Reinhart got the ball rolling with a redirection off a point shot from Jagger Dirk.
The Hitmen started getting into penalty trouble and the hammer fell when Greg Chase took two consecutive minors for a four-minute powerplay. Cody Harmsworth was sent to the box less than a minute later and Kootenay was gifted with a brief five-on-three.
Philp made good on a blast from a few feet inside the blue line to make it a one-goal game. After the goal, the Ice stayed on the man-advantage, and Valiev nearly tied it, but his shot went off the post and out of play.
However, it was the Ice captain who knotted it up in the third period with a tap-in on a hard backdoor pass from Valiev at the point.
Philp gave Kootenay the first lead of the night a few minutes later, scooping up a rebound and firing it in with all kinds of mesh to shoot at.
Roughly 33 seconds after Kootenay took the lead, Chase replied for Calgary, tying it at 4-4, which would stand for the rest of the game.
Skapski drew back into the crease for the shootout, but Brassart notched the game-winner after six rounds. Hitmen netminder Chris Driedger turned away all Kootenay shooters.
The two teams met for a rematch on Saturday and the Hitmen ran away with it in the second period to win 6-3.
Chase had a pair, while Ben Thomas, Virtanen Mike Winther and Pavel Padakin all scored for Calgary. Philp, Jaedon Descheneau and Austin Vetterl replied for the Ice.
Philp opened the scoring, but Chase tallied twice to give Calgary a 2-1 lead after the first period.
Thomas and Virtanen scored twice in the second period, and Winther got his goal just after the halfway mark of the third period.
Vetterl and Padakin traded goals, while Descheneau also found the back of the net on a late powerplay.
Skapski had another tough night, allowing four goals in 12 shots, and was replaced by Hoflin in the second period.