Playing back-to-back nights, the Kootenay Ice started both their goaltenders over the weekend.
Unfortunately, neither one of them lasted an entire game.
Facing the Prince Albert Raiders on Friday night, Duncan McGovern was pulled midway through the second period and the team eventually lost 7-3. Against the Saskatoon Blades on Saturday, Bailey Brkin was pulled after the first period as Kootenay lost again, this time 4-2.
While neither goaltender had a particularly stunning showing over the course of the week’s four-game road trip, in which the Ice lost every night in regulation, they certainly weren’t the team’s only problem.
Tuesday’s game in Lethbridge was a complete meltdown, a 7-0 blowout in which they gave up 41 shots against. While they scored more in Swift Current the next night, the 5-3 loss had the same overall result.
After a full day of rest on Thursday, however, the final two games were particularly disheartening.
“We could make excuses and say that our [busy] schedule is getting the best of us, but I just think that we’re a fragile group right and when things aren’t going well, it just seems to snowball,” said associate coach Jon Klemm after Friday’s game in Prince Albert. “We have to get back to being mentally tough and playing [through] adversity.”
Against the Raiders, the Ice were fighting an uphill battle early. Just 34 seconds into the game, Jordy Stallard broke free in front of the Kootenay net and scored his team-leading 27th goal of the season.
While Colton Veloso tied the game up less than a minute later, taking a pass from linemate Peyton Krebs at the side of the net and beating Ian Scott glove side, by the midway point of the period, Prince Albert had taken the lead again.
Taking an innocent looking shot along the ice from a sharp angle, Brayden Pachal somehow beat Duncan McGovern for just his eighth goal in 141 WHL games.
To start out the second period, the Ice appeared to have found their legs, but soon saw any momentum stifled by a rough power play. Already ranked as the least efficient man advantage when it comes to scoring (14.8%), Kootenay allowed a goal to give them the most shorthanded tallies against in the league (11).
While it was not long after McGovern robbed Curtis Miske on a breakaway, another rush chance, this time for Brett Leason caught him sliding and forced coach James Patrick to emphatically switch him in goal for Bailey Brkin.
Brkin and the Ice were sharp to round out the middle frame, but would see their night end early after the final intermission. Just over a minute into the third, Parker Kelly scored from the slot, and then not long after, Pachal batted in a second rebound to add to a career-best goal scoring night.
On a power play a minute later, Krebs connected with Veloso in a similar manner as in the first period to get another goal and soften the blow. Jonathan Smart made it even closer after picking up a breakaway shorthanded marker a few minutes later, but it wasn’t enough.
Near the end of the game, recently acquired Raiders forward Regan Nagy deked around defenceman Bobby Russell and made an astonishing move to bury his first goal for his new team.
Adding insult to injury, Nagy scored again, with only three seconds left in the game, as he took a pass from 15-year-old blueliner Kaiden Guhle and walked in to add another one. The assist was Guhle’s first ever point, after having been taken first overall in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, which made it a 7-3 trouncing.
McGovern made 11 saves on 14 shots in his half of the game, while Brkin made 12 on 16 shots. Nevertheless, it was Brkin who got the call to start the Saturday follow up in Saskatoon.
Needing to come out with good energy to shake their four-game losing streak , Kootenay did not meet the challenge early.
With altered lines, which included moving surging-forwards Brett Davis and Cam Hausinger up on the first unit with Alec Baer, and having Colton Kroeker centre Krebs and Veloso, the team was once again put in a hole early.
Gage Ramsay opened the scoring, receiving a drop pass off the rush from Cameron Hebig and blasting a low slapshot under Brkin’s glove.
Ramsay then put in another a goal near the 13-minute mark, taking a sensational cross ice pass from Bradly Goethals for his fourth of the season.
Putting up 17 shots in the first period alone, even a strike from the corner behind the goal line managed to go into the net, as Josh Paterson struck a blow with a weird one that slid between Brkin’s skate and the post.
To start the second period, Brkin was replaced by McGovern, who came up with a steady performance in a scoreless second period that actually saw the Ice lead in shots 13-8.
Keenan Taphorn was also robbed in the period, after getting a point-blank chance in front of 16-year-old netminder Nolan Maier, but being outwaited leading to an incredible desperation save.
In the third period, Ramsay stripped Baer of a puck at the blueline, found Hebig for a breakaway, who roofed the puck over McGovern.
Kootenay then managed to cause some drama in the final five minutes, first with a redirection goal from Keenan Taphorn, who tipped in Zac Patrick’s point shot, and then Brett Davis who also scored off a pass in front from Patrick.
Even with the chance to pull McGovern for extra-attacker though, it ended as a 4-2 game and the team’s fifth straight loss.
“I didn’t think that we played that badly, but we gave them a 2-0 lead right off the bat and that’s something that you can not do in this league,” said forward Sebastian Streu. “You can’t blame it on the goalies [because] it’s a team effort. [I think that] we finished pretty well and now we can get home and practice.”
While good news was lacking throughout the trip, the team will finally have a chance to rest and practice after a very busy stretch. Back-to-back nights, five games in six nights including almost 1000 kilometres of travel, eight games in 11 days since returning from Christmas break — no matter how you look at it, the team has been in a tough situation recently.
The Ice’s next game won’t be until next Saturday in Lethbridge, for a game against the Hurricanes. In addition to getting practice time, they should also see the return of top defenceman Martin Bodak, who has been away from the team for the past three weeks while playing for Slovakia at the U-20 World Junior Championships in Buffalo, New York.
Despite the recent rough spell, Kootenay’s 18-21-3-0 record is still good enough for second place in the Central Division. The Hurricanes, however, have four games in hand and are only two points back, setting up a very important meeting next weekend.
The Ice’s next home game will be held at 4 p.m. next Sunday as they host the Blades in their second of four head-to-head games this season.
ICE CHIPS: Forward Gilian Kohler has missed the last three games for the Ice with an upper-body injury sustained during Monday’s game against the Medicine Hat Tigers. The Ice also signed 15-year-old Benjamin Zlotny this past week, the team’s sixth round pick (111th overall) at the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft. Zloty has played 11 games this season with the Calgary Royals Midget AAA of the AMHL. In those 11 games, Zloty has three goals and nine points.He also recently a participant at the 40th annual Mac’s AAA Midget World Invitational Hockey Tournament in Calgary, where he finished the tournament with two goals and three points in four games.