Payton Lee stood on his head for over 64 minutes in his return to Cranbrook, but the Ice fell to the Hitmen for a second straight night after giving up a heartbreaker with only seconds to go in overtime.
The 20-year old Kootenay-bread goaltender saved 36 of 38 shots, and was the Ice’s shining star for the majority of the game, making numerous game saving stops.
“[Lee] was outstanding — he was composed, he was calm [and] he gave us a chance to win which is all we’ve ever asked of our goalies,” coach Luke Pierce said following the game. “All we need is for him to give us a chance and he did that and more tonight.”
Pierce, however was not thrilled with the performance of the rest of his team, especially their play at the very start of the game.
“I didn’t like the first period at all, I thought it was awful,” Pierce said. “[The Hitmen] have a very young group over there [and] there was no excuse for us, with an older lineup, to be as bad as we were in the first period.”
The Ice got off to a slow start in their home opener, and were unable to sustain any pressure in the Hitmen’s end, even with a power play opportunity three minutes in.
After a lackluster first half to the opening frame from both sides, Calgary took control at the midway point. At 12:38, Hitmen forward Andrew Fyten found himself alone in front of Lee and buried a rebound off teammate Dawson Martin’s shot.
After going into the first intermission tied, the Ice came out with renewed energy in the second period and were rewarded early when defenceman Cale Fleury picked the top corner with a wrist shot from just above the corner circle.
Although the third period provided some excitement with a few powerplays, big hits from Fleury and huge saves from Lee, for a second straight night Calgary and Kootenay’s tilt was decided in extra-time.
Lee saved his best work for overtime, robbing Taylor Sandheim with his glove on a breakaway early on, but he couldn’t stop Michael Zipp on an impossible rebound shot with under a minute to go. Although Lee was disappointed with the game’s outcome, he couldn’t help but feel happy to be back home.
“It felt good, I mean it’s been seven years since I played in an Ice jersey at home so it felt really good,” Lee said, also saying that despite losing his first two starts in disappointing fashion, there were positives to be taken away from the opening weekend.
“We took a point away from [the Hitmen] in their arena so that’s a decent start,” Lee said. “But tonight we really would’ve like to have gotten that win.”
The Ice went with a slightly different lineup than they had for the opener in Calgary, which coach Pierce admitted in hindsight may not have helped the team’s performance in their first game at home. The rookie “mattress line” featuring Michael King and the Taphorn twins were healthy scratches, which Pierce said was a hard decision.
“We still got a lot of bodies [so] we needed to see some other guys and we’ve still got to make some decisions [to trim the roster],” Pierce said. “Michael King and the twins were at times our best line [in the season opener] and they gave us a ton of energy.
“I was concerned about going into the night not having them in our lineup and [their impact] showed in that first period.”
Going into a week of practices before playing again next Saturday, Pierce wants to see a more concerted effort from all of his players in the future, especially when it comes to putting the puck in the net.
“Our play through the neutral zone needs to improve on both sides of the puck and we, again, took too many penalties,” he said. “[Finishing our chances] comes with bearing down in practice a little better, being a little more determined to score goals and we need to see that improve.”
The Ice’s next home game is Saturday, October 1, against the Saskatoon Blades at Western Financial Place, where the Ice will take another shot at getting a win, a feat which has eluded them since the preseason.
Notes: Scratches for the Ice included Declan Walter (G), Logan Schaufler (D), Nikita Radzivilyuk (D), Keenan Taphorn (F), Fedor Rudakov (D), Shane Allan (F), Michael King (F), Kaedan Taphorn (F) … The Hitmen scratched Nik Amundrud (G), Scott Allan (D) and Jakob LaPointe (D) and were also without the service of many players currently at NHL training camps including: Jake Bean (Carolina Hurricanes), Beck Malenstyn (Washington Capitals), Jakob Stukel (Vancouver Canucks), Carsen Twarynski (Philadelphia Flyers), Matteo Gennaro (Winnipeg Jets), Jordy Stallard (Jets) and Aaron Hyman (Calgary Flames).
Saturday, September 24
Calgary Hitmen 2 at Kootenay Ice 1
1. CGY – A. Fyten (1) (D. Martin, B. Platt), 7:22
2. KTN – C. Fleury (1) 3:26
3. CGY – M. Zipp (1) (M. Stratton, T. Mrkonjic) 4:18
Shots 1 2 3 4 T
Kootenay Ice 8-11-11-4-34
Calgary Hitmen 15-5-11-7-38
Goaltenders Record Saves SV%
KTN – Payton Lee 0-0-1-1 36/38 0.947
CGY- Kyle Dumba 1-0-0-0 33/34 0.970
Townsman Three Stars:
1. Payton Lee – KTN
2. Kyle Dumba – CGY
3. Michael Zipp – CGY