The Kootenay Ice headed into Lethbridge on Friday night well-rested and determined to beat a divisional rival.
The Hurricanes, however, were too much for the Cranbrook boys to handle and they lost 5-2 for their sixth straight loss, and fifth in a row that didn’t make it past regulation.
“We started off pretty slowly, but we clawed our way back [at the end] of the first period,” said defenceman Sam Huston, who scored his first goal of the season in the loss. “Turnovers were a big part of the game and [Lethbridge] capitalized on them.”
The ‘Canes got on the board early in front of their home crowd, as new addition Keltie Jeri-Leon pounced on a loose puck in the slot and beat Duncan McGovern with a top-corner wrister.
Jeri-Leon, a 2000-born forward, is one of seven players the team recently acquired just prior to the WHL trade deadline, having previously played in Kamloops with the Blazers.
The Ice slowly found their legs as the first period wore on, and at the midway point took advantage of a sloppy Lethbridge defensive zone faceoff.
Grabbing a turnover at the side of the net, Alec Baer fed the puck in front to Cam Hausinger, who beat Logan Flodell (another new ‘Canes addition) for his 14th goal of the year.
Not to be outdone in the giveaway department, Kootenay defenceman Ryan Pouliot gave up a puck in the neutral zone minutes later and sprang Dylan Cozens on a breakaway.
Making no mistake, the 16-year-old took off with speed and outwaited McGovern with a perfect finish to put his team back up 2-1.
In the second period, just minutes in, the Ice tied the game with Huston blasting a rocket from the blueline that was assisted by Brett Davis and Brad Ginnell.
Cozens then grabbed the lead right back and caught McGovern chasing a puck too far out of his net and flicked in a grinder’s goal. The credited assist went to Logan Barlage, another deadline addition from Swift Current, who is a fellow 16-year-old.
Nearly 10 minutes later, Cozens capped off his huge performance by burying a rebound for his first career WHL hat trick. Not only did the marker make it a comfortable two goal lead, it tied him with Ice forward Peyton Krebs for the league lead in rookie scoring.
Cozens was the 19th overall selection in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, while Krebs was first and teammate Barlage was fourth. Krebs and Cozens were teammates at the 2017 U-17 World Hockey Challenge back in November, both playing with the silver medal winning Team Canada Red.
Although the third period was a back-and-forth affair with both teams picking up quality chances, aside from an empty net goal for Lethbridge, there was no further scoring.
Kootenay’s league worst power play once again struggled throughout the night, going 0-for-5, but the team managed to stop both penalty kill situations. Shot totals were 26 to 25 in favour of the Hurricanes.
“It [would] have helped to have got one on the power play, but that’s not the only reason we lost,” Huston said. “Turnovers were a big part [of it] and we need to work on our defensive zone [play].”
With no time to dwell on the loss, the Ice are right back at it this afternoon as they host the Saskatoon Blades for the first time this season. In their previous road match, Kootenay lost 4-2, however there have since been many changes to both lineups.
At the trade deadline, the Blades gave up forward Cameron Hebig, star defenceman Libor Hajek and goalie Ryan Kubic, while adding forwards Max Gerlach, Eric Florchuk, and overage goalie Tyler Brown.
Leading Saskatoon in points this season is 1999-born forward Braylon Shmyr who has a staggering 59 points in 44 games this year. While they have a better record (22-19-2-1) than Kootenay (18-22-3-0), the Blades are in fifth place in a very competitive East Division and are currently holding onto the final playoff spot in the conference.
The Ice, on the other hand are in third in the Central Division, despite a sub-.500 winning percentage and a six-game losing streak.
Puck drop between the Ice and Blades is at 4 p.m. this afternoon at Western Financial Place.