The Kootenay Ice brought their A-game to Friday night’s tilt against the Tri-City Americans, winning 5-2 and out-shooting their opponents 37-21 .
While the final stats may have indicated the win was breeze for the Ice, according to head coach James Patrick, the team had to fight until the bitter end.
“It didn’t feel decisive to me, it was a lot closer than a 5 -2 score,” Patrick said. “I know we outshot them by a wide margin, and outchanced them, but they have so much skill. They’re scary watching from the bench because they can turn on a dime.
“I think it was our best game we’ve played all year [though].”
Having lost their last three games heading into the matchup, including two third-period heartbreakers, Kootenay delivered a full 60 minutes against Tri-City, and had contributions from their entire lineup.
While the usual suspects like Brett Davis and Peyton Krebs led the way, both putting up a goal and an assist, 10 different Ice players earned points.
“I thought our compete level, from top to bottom, was as good as we’ve had,” Patrick said. “Every guy [on our team] is going to make a mistake. I don’t care about the mistakes, it’s how hard you’re working as you’re making it, and how hard you work after it happens. I thought they [worked] all night long. Every time there was a breakdown, we had guys throwing their bodies in front of shot lanes and coming back and getting sticks.”
Despite the end result, the game got off to a frightening start for the struggling home side. Just over three and a half minutes into the first period, on their first shot, the Americans opened the scoring.
It was the team’s big guns who led the charge, with recent seventh overall NHL draft pick Michael Rasmussen dropping the puck for leading scorer Morgan Geekie, who blasted a shot past Duncan McGovern.
The Ice shook off the play quickly however, and were soon engaged in a competitive battle that helped ease their coach’s tension.
“I was a little worried [after that first goal] because we’ve been in a tough spell here, but within the next 5 minutes, I thought we had shift after shift of getting pucks in their zone and getting pucks to the net,” Patrick said. “I didn’t feel too good at that time, but five, seven, 10 minutes after, I thought, geez I like the way we’re playing. Let’s just stick to this.”
Near the end of the period, their positive play allowed them to break through and one of the team’s most consistent hard workers was rewarded.
Driving the middle lane, Gilian Kohler put himself in a perfect position to jam in a pass from Krebs, and scored beating Beck Warm. It was the Swiss import’s first goal in 22 games, and was an important turning point for the Ice.
“[Over the last] few games, I’ve had a lot of chances to score and I didn’t put the puck in the net, [so] to score the first goal tonight was a great feeling,” Kohler said after the game. “I just passed to Krebsie and drove the net, he made a really nice pass and I was a little bit lucky.”
After starting the year playing with Krebs, Kohler was recently reunited with him on a powerful third line with Colton Veloso. It’s a decision that Patrick is happy he made.
“We just felt after the Saskatoon game, we had to balance out our lines a bit,” the coach said. “All night I thought that line was a threat… If our top two lines can come out even against other teams’ top two lines and our third line can be better than theirs, that can be the difference in a game for us.”
In the second period, Kootenay’s top line got on the board. Captain Colton Kroeker forced a turnover, walked into the offensive zone and fired a shot that went off Warm’s pad to Kaeden Taphorn, who backhanded in the rebound.
The Ams countered quickly though, and Geekie got his second of the night, throwing a puck into the crease from behind the net and getting a lucky bounce.
Near the midway mark of the frame, the Ice power play got a chance to shine and tied the game. Getting the puck with room at the bottom of the circle, Davis made a perfect pass to Cam Hausinger at the backdoor, who made no mistake and retook the lead.
In the third, Krebs added an insurance marker early having a hard pass from Veloso bounce off him in front. The Ice then maintained their pressure, and Davis scored, while on a 2-on-1,with a terrific solo effort that sealed the deal.
“I think we all just bought into the system, that was crucial tonight,” Krebs said. “It was a great team effort. I think all four lines were going [and] we played our system well.”
As for his own performance, which had a little extra jump to it, the rookie credited the rivalry with his brother Dakota, who used to play for the Americans before being traded to the Calgary Hitmen at the trade deadline.
“Playing against my brother’s former team, I always have a little [extra desire] to beat them for sure,” he laughed. “It was a fun night, a great team win and I’m very excited about that.”
The two point performance now has Krebs at 47 points in 54 games, a four point lead in the rookie scoring race. The two points for Kootenay has the team still in a playoff spot, although still tied with the Red Deer Rebels.
Red Deer beat the Victoria Royals 4-3 on the road, but the home win for the Ice was enough to keep the two teams neck-and-neck. The Ice have back-to-back games against the Lethbridge Hurricanes to end the weekend.
On Saturday, they play on the road and on Sunday, they’re at home in crucial opportunities to maintain the third spot in the Central Division. Patrick is hoping the team can keep up their play.
“The only way to play and be successful against a team like [Lethbridge] is to play the way we played tonight,” he said. “We’ve got three lines that can be offensive threats, and [although] our fourth line didn’t play as much tonight, in the next two games, they’re going to play more, and we need everyone going.”
Puck drop for tonight’s road game is at 7 p.m. and the action at Western Financial Place on Sunday kicks off at 4 p.m.