By the end of the night, everyone was getting a little punchy at Western Financial Place.
With the game’s start time delayed by over an hour-and-a-half, the crowd was exhausted, and after another disappointing outcome, the Kootenay Ice were tired of losing.
The Ice were defeated 3-2 to the Medicine Hat Tigers, falling for the fourth straight game due to a late opposition game-winning goal. While still only two points out of third place in the Central Division, the final available playoff spot, the loss was another blow to the team’s psyche.
According to head coach James Patrick, the end result came down to minor details.
“We made crucial mistakes at the wrong times of the game,” he said. “Everyone worked hard. Every player tried his hardest, but at the end of the night, the [Tigers] turned over less pucks than us and they blocked more shots than us.”
The shot totals were close for both teams. Kootenay had 34 and Medicine Hat had 36, while both sides scored one power play goal each. Unfortunately, as has been the case too often over the last few weeks, it just wasn’t the Ice’s night.
“I think it’s just us kind of learning how to win by experience,” forward Alec Baer explained. “[Medicine Hat] is a team that’s been winning for a few years now, and I think we’ve just got to mature and be able to bear down in those last minutes.”
Friday got off to a strange start, as the Tigers’ bus was delayed by highway weather conditions and didn’t make it to Cranbrook until a half hour after the originally scheduled puck drop.
While Kootenay tried to stay focused during the lengthy wait, the rhythm change ended up being difficult for them. Once the game finally got underway, just after 8:30 p.m., it only took Medicine Hat two minutes to score the opening goal.
Working quickly in transition, Jaeger White fed Gary Haden, who tapped in the early goal between Duncan McGovern’s pads.
“I think we should have had the step on them [at the start],” said Baer. “They were on the bus for eight hours or so, [and] I think we could’ve done a little better job [to] get on them while they [still] had their bus legs.”
Patrick, however, disagreed and did not think the early goal against was a result of the late-start.
“A lot of times, it’s easier for the team coming in, [while] we’re sitting here waiting and waiting and waiting,” the coach said. “I’m not saying there is an advantage one way or the other, but it’s certainly not to our advantage. I was disappointed we gave up an early goal, [but] we were as much out of our routine, or more out of our routine, than they were.”
The Ice countered at the midway mark of the first period, with Baer jamming home a rebound after Michael Bullion got a pad on Martin Bodak’s point shot, and the game went into its first intermission tied.
Forcing the usually very disciplined Tigers to take six penalties, the Ice cashed in their only power play goal to take a brief lead in the middle of the second period. A mad scramble in Bullion’s crease, Brad Ginnell eventually found a handle on the puck and tucked in his eighth goal of the year.
The go-ahead marker didn’t stand for too long, however, as Cole Clayton took a long wrist shot from the boards that beat McGovern to tie the game.
In the third period, it was a power play for the Tigers that sealed the deal. Near the midway mark, Ice affiliate player Connor McClennon was called for slashing, and Medicine Hat went to work on the man advantage.
A point shot from David Quenneville rocketed its way to the back of the twine and ended another frustrating night for Kootenay, who couldn’t rally to force overtime.
“For me, the difference in the game was that they out changed us,” Patrick said. “They’d get on for 30 [seconds], get a change, and we would turnover pucks and they would come back at us.
“I thought there were times where we had good possession in their zone, [but] when that happened, we overstayed our shifts. There were just times when we had tired bodies on the ice, and they got fresh bodies.”
The Ice’s current record is 25-35-3-0 after 63 games, while Red Deer is 21-28-10-3 in 62. Kootenay plays in Spokane tonight against the Chiefs, and Red Deer hosts the Swift Current Broncos.
While Friday was frustrating, Baer is optimistic about Saturday’s contest on the road.
“Obviously, these close games, they hurt,” he said. “They cut deep, but it’s fun that we get to go back tomorrow and go right back at it.
“[Spokane] have got a few high-end guys [that] we’ve got to be able to shut down… We’ve played well against them [this year]. Obviously, there were a couple of outcomes we didn’t like, but if we play like we did today, with a couple less mistakes, I think we can get a win.”
Puck drop is at 8 p.m. and the Ice’s next game at home is against the Moose Jaw Warriors on Wednesday.