The BC Major Midget League (BCMML) Kootenay Ice knew they were in tough when they faced off against the 2018 BCMML champion Fraser Valley Thunderbirds in the first week of league play on the weekend.
And the T-birds were as good as expected, as they swept the Ice winning a close 5-3 match on Sunday following a 7-2 victory on Saturday at the Cominco Arena in Trail.
“You come into it with an open mind, but there’s tons of stuff we need to work on,” said Ice head coach Kris Boyce. “I thought it was a good gauge to see where we need to be. That team is probably going to be one of the top teams in this league this year, so for us coming in and battling hard with them and competing and being in that hockey game today was a good indicator.
“We had better chances to score in the third, but we just couldn’t bury the puck, so you get a bounce or two and the game is opposite.”
In Sunday’s match, Fraser Valley forward Michael Milne scored the game-winning goal with 5:51 to play in the third period to give the Thunderbirds a 4-2 lead. The Ice came close to scoring just seconds before on a wild scramble, but the T-Birds d-man cleared the zone and Milne broke out on a 2-on-1, kept and fired it past Ice goalie and Nelson native Tenzin Mint.
It was Milne’s second of the game and sixth on the weekend after tallying four goals in the win the previous night. The 16-year-old Abbotsford native was signed by the WHL Kootenay Ice in August after being drafted by the Ice in the eighth round of the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft.
Kootenay got on the board first when Vanderhoof product Caleb Goncalves jumped on a turnover at the blue line and tallied an unassisted goal at 16:41, yet, the Birds responded less than a minute later on a Luca Venier goal to tie it.
Fruitvale native Jaxson Waterstreet put Kootenay up 2-1 four minutes into the middle frame, when he slid the puck under Fraser Valley goalie Kevin Craig on a goalmouth scramble.
The Ice continued to battle but penalties late in the second period gave Fraser Valley back-to-back 5-on-3 chances. The Ice killed both two-man advantages, but Fraser Valley capitalized on a 5-on-4 with 1:53 left, when Milne danced around the defender and slipped a slick “Forsberg” deke past Mint to tie it at 2-2 heading into the third period.
“We did a really good job on our penalty kill this whole weekend,” said Boyce. “So you have to take the positives out of that. I mean they probably had four or five 5-on-3 power plays and they didn’t score once. But we know we have to be more disciplined to win games in this league, and we have to stay out of the penalty box.”
Fraser Valley went up 3-2 when the Kootenay defender tried to clear the puck but it bounced off the shoulder of Garritt Lindhout and into the net with 12:37 on the clock. After Milne made it 4-2, Zac Funk sealed it finishing off an odd-man rush at 4:42 for a 5-2 T-birds lead.
Kootenay defenceman Anthony Williams scored with 1:11 to play when his point shot went through traffic and past Craig to cut the lead to two. But the Fraser Valley goalie stopped a late breakaway by Waterstreet to keep it from getting more interesting, as Fraser Valley outshot the Ice 38-20.
On Saturday, Milne broke open a 2-2 game late in the first period for a 3-2 lead, as Fraser Valley scored two more in each of the second and third periods for the 7-2 victory.
Cranbrook native Dayton Nelson and Goncalves scored for the Ice, while Milne tallied four, Jacob Wright netted two goals and Dawson Good counted the other marker for the Thunderbirds.
Fraser Valley earned the sweep against Kootenay, but parity reigned across the rest of the league as three of the five series resulted in splits, with Cariboo earning a tie and a win against the Vanvouver Giants in the other series.
Kootenay is at home again this week when they host the South Island Royals at the Cominco Arena. The Royals split with the Vancouver NE Chiefs last weekend winning their first match 4-2 before losing 4-0 on Sunday.
“Those games are crucial for us,” said Boyce. “We need to beat those teams to make playoffs. So we’re going to have a good week of practice this week and work on things, and come here next Saturday ready to win a hockey game.”
The puck drop for the Ice-Royals game goes at 10:15 a.m. on Saturday and 9:45 a.m. on Sunday.