There are many Edmonton Oilers fans who wanted to see Kailer Yamamoto spend this season in the NHL.
After the Spokane Chiefs winger put up a goal and four assists in a 5-3 win in Cranbrook on Friday night, Kootenay Ice fans could certainly get on board with that idea.
The first-round Edmonton draft pick played nine games with the Oilers in October before heading back to his hometown for another year in the WHL. After a readjustment period, Yamamoto caught fire recently, but saved his best for the Ice.
According to Kootenay head coach James Patrick, however, there was more to his team’s loss than opposing all-star talent.
“You’re not going to win a game when you give up three power play goals,” Patrick said at the end of the night. “[You won’t have success on the penalty kill, if] you don’t get it down the ice, don’t get in a shot lanes [and] have players with no desperation.
“We didn’t do [any of] that, so we didn’t deserve to win.”
While only two of five power play chances for Spokane were officially counted as goals, a lack of discipline and a lack resilience while down a man hurt the Ice in a surprisingly winnable game. Despite ending the night having been outshot 34 to 17, the game was tied after two periods and there for the taking.
“I didn’t like the way we played [and then] we [should have] come out and played the best we possibly could and gotten engaged [in the third],” Patrick said. “I thought we had way too many flybys and one-hands on sticks [instead].
“We were trying fancy plays instead of getting middle lane drives, getting pucks into their corners and working for retrievals.”
Despite the unfortunate finish, the Ice opened the game’s scoring less than two minutes into the night. Taking the puck all the way from the centre ice line to the net, Peyton Krebs went on a journey to beat Dawson Weatherill with a perfect wrist shot in close.
The goal counted as his 50th career WHL point in just his 52nd game, but it didn’t keep the Ice ahead for long.
Less than two minutes later, the Chiefs’ top line walked in on a 3-on-2 and defenceman Ty Smith blasted a shot past Matt Berlin from inches away.
During the game’s first power play, near the midway point of the opening period, with a man advantage for the Ice, Martin Bodak wired home a slap shot from the point to regain the Kootenay lead.
Spokane once again brought the tie right back minutes later, as Yamamoto and Los Angeles Kings’ draft pick Jaret Anderson-Dolan drew their second assists of the night and set up Jake McGrew for a goal two seconds too late to be considered on the power play.
Heading into the second frame with a tie, the Ice managed to avoid any penalties or goals against for the first ten minutes. Then, at the 10:27 mark, captain Colton Kroeker was sent to the box for slashing and opened the door for more Spokane offence.
Controlling the play as Kootenay collapsed, Smith made a pass to Anderson-Dolan who snuck the puck across the slot to Yamamoto for a tap-in at the side of the crease.
The seesaw continued on until the end of period though, and a few minutes later, Colton Veloso got the home side squared back up as he jammed home his 17th of the year. While the play was reviewed for goalie interference, in the end, it went in Kootenay’s favour.
The final period was fa from Kootenay’s favour, unfortunately. Quickly going back on the penalty kill, thanks to a trip from Sebastian Streu on Yamamoto, the Chiefs’ three amigos put in another goal.
A twist on an old favourite, Yamamoto passed it to Smith, who found a streaking Anderson Dolan, who found a hole past Berlin.
While Kootenay didn’t give up at the end of the game and continued to fight, after pulling their goalie for an extra-attacker in the final minutes, they swiftly conceded an insurance marker.
Chased by Yamamoto behind his own net, Kroeker fell down and coughed up the puck which ended up on Luke Toporowski’s stick and to the twine.
“I liked some guys, [but] our veteran defencemen were not very good,” Patrick said of their major downfalls. “A couple of the guys who play the most minutes gave up [chances] for no reason [and it] just boggled the mind.
“Cole Muir’s line was pretty good. Krebs’ line was pretty good, but we just didn’t have enough guys going.”
According to the coach, who said that 16-year-old Zac Patrick was the team’s best defenceman that night, it is very difficult to send a message to his top blueliners due to their depth.
“We’ve got young defenceman that just can’t play against top lines, that’s the fact of the matter,” Patrick explained. “I hate the fact that sometimes you have to keep putting those [veteran] players back on the ice [and] to send a message, you’ve got to take ice time away.
“We’re getting close to that, where I don’t care, I’ll play the 16-year-olds against the best line.”
The coach also said the team was bailed out by their goaltender.
“It would have been a different score, if it wasn’t for Matt Berlin,” Patrick said. “I thought he was really good. We got outshot by a large margin [and] we got out chanced.”
Veloso, who took one of the Ice’s penalties, said that playing down a man at key moments hurt the team dearly and couldn’t place the blame anywhere but on his own bench.
“It’s on us. We can’t be blaming the refs at the end of the day,” he said. “We’re the ones that are taking the penalties, so I think we need to be way more disciplined, especially against a team with a power play like that.”
Now on a two-game losing streak, Kootenay wrap up their seven-game homestand tomorrow night against the terrifyingly talented Swift Current Broncos. With the league’s top line, who are all top ten scorers in the WHL, the Ice will need to learn quickly from their mistakes.
“We know that we’re a good team and I we’re going to focus on being hard on them,” Veloso said. “Obviously, they have those first two lines that are pretty deep, so we’re just going to play hard against them and keep it simple.
“I think if we try to do too much against those guys and we make mistakes, they’re going to capitalize. We need to keep it simple, play our game, get pucks deep and work their defence.”
The Broncos are in second place in the WHL with 76 points in 53 games, while the Ice are third in the Central Division with 49 points in 51 games. While the Kootenay’s top scorer, Colton Kroeker, is one point shy of a point-per-game pace, Swift Current has six players averaging well over a point-per-game.
Glenn Gawdin leads the leam with 93 points in 52 games, Aleksi Heponiemi has 93 points in 39 games, Tyler Steenbergen has 39 points in 76 games, Giorgio Estephan has 69 points in 50 games, Matteo Gennaro has 60 points in 48 games and defenceman Colby Sissons has 55 points in 53 games.
Starting goalie Stuart Skinner meanwhile, has a 3.11 goals against average, a 0.904 save percentage and five shutouts, three of which came against the Ice.
Puck drop between the Ice and Broncos is at 7 p.m. at Western Financial Place.