Western Financial Place got loud on Sunday afternoon, as the crowd almost willed the Kootenay Ice into a comeback victory.
Down 3-1 after two periods to the Medicine Hat Tigers, the Ice packed in a night’s worth of excitement into the game’s last four minutes, but ultimately came up just short.
While Kootenay outshot their opponents 41-28 and dominated large portions of the contest, they were let down by a lack of discipline and slight immaturity.
“We’re still a young team who let their emotions get the better of them, get too high when we have success, and get too low when we have some setbacks,” said head coach James Patrick after the game. “They’ve got one of the best power plays [and] I didn’t like the penalties we took. I didn’t like our penalty kill. We got overly aggressive and gave up too good of chances.
“We [also] didn’t score on the power play and we had some really good chances. That’s the game right there.”
While the loss did not help their ever-closing window for a playoff position, and the Red Deer Rebels maintained their seven-point cushion with a game in hand, Patrick once again did not question his group’s effort.
“No question, the guys really worked and they care and they’ve wanted all year long to make the playoffs [all year],” the coach said. “They were heartbroken in the dressing room afterward, but they laid everything out there on the ice at the end.”
Entering the game on a seven-game losing streak, the Ice were a determined bunch to start the afternoon. Although a back-and-forth first period didn’t yield any goals for either team, Kootenay picked up momentum going into the second frame.
After a series of near misses and great saves from Tigers’ goaltender Michael Bullion, Ice captain Colton Kroeker finally broke through with an excellent individual effort on a solo rush.
Sliding the puck through Bullion’s legs, Kroeker sent his bench and the entire crowd into a frenzy. The celebration would be short-lived, however, as the Tigers tied the game on a power play less than two minutes later.
Working the puck around efficiently, forward Elijah Brown was johnny-on-the spot in front of the net and beat Duncan McGovern to get the Tigers on the board.
Moments later, Ryan Jevene tipped a puck with a very high stick that beat McGovern again, but was promptly disallowed. A minute later, however, Ryan Chyzowski jammed home a rebound that counted and gave his team their first lead.
Continuing to out-chance their opponents, Kootenay halted their progress abruptly when gave up another penalty in the last minute of the middle period, as Martin Bodak went off for interference.
With plenty of time and space on the man advantage, Hayden Ostir walked in close and fed Josh Williams for a one-time from the slot to put his team up 3-1 going into the final intermission, despite being outshot 30 to 19.
Stymied by Bullion for the first three-quarters of the final frame, Kootenay finally gave the crowd some hope at the 16-minute mark. Rushing in off the wing shorthanded and making a clever move to get to the inside, Peyton Krebs dished to a streaking Bobby Russell who roofed his first career WHL goal.
“It felt pretty good, but more importantly, we need the wins,” Russell said of the milestone. “I just joined up in the rush and Krebs made a good play to me and I one-timed it.”
The goal nearly made the roof explode, but following suit with the game’s progression, it a step forward and time for two back.
A minute and a half later, shorthanded the other way, James Hamblin earned a partial breakaway and snatched back Medicine Hat’s two-goal lead.
While a few fans filed out, Jonathan Smart made the game interesting again as he grabbed a pass from Alec Baer in front of the Tigers net and put his team back within one. Despite pulling McGovern and throwing absolutely everything the could at Bullion, it was far as Kootenay would get and they lost 4-3.
Having to walk away from another game empty-handed was extremely frustrating.
“Discipline and special teams were the difference in the game,” Patrick said. “Their goalie played great too. I know we hit three posts and crossbars, but he came up really big, whenever he had to.”
While Patrick is still confident in his systems, gameplan and the effort of his players, he knows their struggles the Ice just need to find a way to be even more consistent.
“This [game was] so similar to so many games that we’ve had this last six weeks where we’ve played well and we’ve out-chanced a team a lot of [but] had a breakdown late,” he said. “[I need to do a better job of] talking to players about how important every shift can be. We’re [just] not quite there yet.”
“It’s just [our] late game breakdowns,” he said. “If we tighten those up, I feel like we can do something special, make the playoffs here, get through a couple of rounds.
“[The Tigers] couldn’t handle us 5-on-5, it’s just when we take dumb penalties and they get [momentum] to come back in the games, it’s pretty disappointing.”
The game ended with Bullion being named the first star with 38 saves on 41 shots, while McGovern stopped 24 of 28. In additions to Russell scoring his first goal, Baer registered his 100th career assist.
The Ice’s next game is on Friday in Cranbrook, as they host former-captain Cale Fleury and the Regina Pats at 7 p.m.