Wyatt Hoflin and Evan Sarthou went toe-to-toe and save-for-save Wednesday night in a battle of the goaltenders during WHL action between the Kootenay Ice and Tri-City Americans.
With the effort put forth by the masked guardians, it was a shame only one could come out on top.
When the final buzzer sounded, a freak, broken play led to the only goal allowed by either puck-stopper as Vladislav Lukin capitalized on a fallen Kootenay defender to beat Hoflin and boost the Americans to a 2-0 victory.
“You don’t win in this league without good goaltending,” said Mike Williamson, head coach of the Tri-City Americans, following his team’s win Wednesday night. “Sarts is playing more and more confident this second half and this last little while.
“This game, I thought both goalies played fantastic. It was a game that came down to one break, kind of a broken play that ended up giving us a 1-0 lead. But it easily could have gone either way.”
For Williamson, it was the 18-year-old Sarthou, a native of Black Diamond, Wash., turning in a steady 28-save performance for his first shutout of the season and 22nd victory of the campaign.
At the other end of the rink, the 21-year-old Hoflin was equally as steady and the busier of the two netminders, stopping 40 of the 41 shots he faced. The only blemish on Hoflin’s record this night came on a 2-on-1, where defenceman Cale Fleury stepped on the puck, falling out of the play and sending Parker Bowles and Lukin to work.
“Tough way to lose it on a break like that after everything else we did well,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice.
“It’s back-to-back nights where [Hoflin] has made it look real simple. I thought he really helped us today with his puck movement in our end. For teams that don’t play us often, they maybe aren’t familiar with it. He was really able to help us breaking out of our zone, but for the most part, he just kept the game clean.”
After shutting out the Lethbridge Hurricanes with a 31-save effort Saturday night, the Spruce Grove, Alta., native looked ready to blank the Americans as well. Lukin’s 17th goal of the season, which came 10:12 into the third period Wednesday evening, snapped a streak of more than 118 minutes in which Hoflin did not allow a goal.
“Obviously when it’s 0-0 anything can happen,” Hoflin said Wednesday. “It was just a bad bounce for us that goes in our net.
“These past couple games, being calm, not running around chasing pucks makes it a lot easier for pucks to hit me.”
The only other goal of the night came off the stick of Americans leading scorer Parker Bowles.
The 21-year-old native of Kelowna tallied his 30th of the campaign into an empty net to seal the victory with 19 seconds remaining on the clock.
With all due respect to Sarthou’s efforts, the biggest save of the game belonged to Hoflin.
Americans right winger Morgan Geekie was awarded a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway with 4:40 to play in the second period.
Lining up at centre ice, the 17-year-old native of Strathclair, Man., skated wide left before swinging back towards the slot where the puck rolled just as the forward appeared ready to shoot. Instead, the 6-foot-2 Geekie carried on towards Hoflin, who sealed up the five-hole to make a critical stop and keep the game scoreless.
If the penalty-shot save wasn’t big enough, later on in the period Hoflin came up with a couple more key stops on redirections in tight and the two teams hit the dressing room tied at zero after 40 minutes of play.
The opening 20 minutes of play were relatively uneventful as far as both sides were concerned, though the Americans jumped out to a 13-3 advantage in the shot department. At the end of the night, the visitors posted a decisive 42-28 margin in shots.
“Even though we gave up quite a few shots, we didn’t give up too many big opportunities for them to score or chances like that,” said Ice captain Tanner Lishchynsky. “We kind of started off slow, but guys got into it more, were hitting more and playing harder. We still lost, but there’s still a lot of good to take away from this game.”
The loss drops the Ice to 9-41-4-0 while the Americans improved to 25-25-2-1 and pulled ever closer to the final wildcard position in the WHL’s Western Conference.
Following Wednesday’s festivities, the Americans are three points back of the Kamloops Blazers (24-22-5-3) for the second wildcard seed in the west. Over the past 10 games, Williamson’s crew has gone 7-2-0-1 and has points in six consecutive outings.
“We’re chasing a playoff spot and road games are tough in this league,” Williamson said. “There’s not a lot of games left, so the two points was huge for us.
“We’ve gotten some consistent play out of whole lineup. When we’re playing well, we can shorten up on guys’ minutes and really get a lot of distribution, get a lot of different players out there and play at a good pace. That’s what’s helped us win games lately.”
Next up, the Ice host the Spokane Chiefs (26-21-4-2) Friday night at Western Financial Place, while the Americans continue on through the Central Division to take on the Lethbridge Hurricanes (38-16-0-0) Friday.
Daily Townsman Three Stars:1) G Wyatt Hoflin, Kootenay Ice (40 saves) 2) G Evan Sarthou, Tri-City Americans (28 saves, shutout)3) RW Vladislav Lukin, Tri-City Americans (GWG, plus-1)
Notes: Kootenay Ice RW Jesse Zaharichuk and D Mario Grman were held out of action Wednesday after violating team policy. According to coach Pierce, Zaharichuk and Grman broke curfew, but handled the situation with accountability… The Ice also went without RW Vince Loschiavo (illness) Wednesday and lost LW Austin Wellsby to an upper-body injury during the first period. After starting one body short, Pierce operated the rest of the night with 10 forwards… Scratched for the Americans were D Kurtis Rutledge, D Brendan O’Reilly, C Kyle Olson (lower body) and C Parker AuCoin… Announced attendance in Cranbrook was 1,877…