With a playoff spot secured, the Major Midget Kootenay Ice risked taking-a-knee heading into a two game series against the 11th place South Island Royals on the weekend. But a strong finish in each of the two games resulted in a sweep of the Royals and the Ice’s 16th victory of the season.
“It was one of those weekends where you know you’re playing a team on the bottom side of the standings, and trying to get the guys focused, you still have to come to the rink and play,” said Ice head coach Kris Boyce.
The Ice fell behind 3-1 in the opening match, but came back and won 6-5 in overtime on an Owen Titus goal with 33 seconds left in the five-minute OT. Kootenay followed that up with another close 3-2 victory on Sunday thanks to a late marker by Whitehorse product Johnny Elias.
“We had a slow start yesterday(Saturday), but today we battled hard and although it was a tight game, it was good for us to play those tight ones, because we have playoffs right around the corner and hopefully we can win those tight ones in playoffs too,” said Boyce.
In Sunday’s game, with the score tied 2-2, D.J. Horne rushed up the ice with Elias and Keenan Crossman. Royals goalie Luke Sheldrake stopped the initial shot but Elias stole it from the Island defenceman and slipped it through Sheldrake’s pads for the game winner with 3:02 to play.
“I haven’t had much finish of late so it was good,” said Elias. “It feels good to finally get one in the net. It came off the rebound and the guy was kind of holding it in front of the net. I poked it and as I was falling down, shovelled it in.”
Hunter Gruben gave the Royals a 1-0 lead at 12:28 of the opening frame, but five minutes later, Titus tied it with his seventh of the season on a great individual effort. The teams exchanged goals in the second with Christian Macasso wiring one past Sheldrake from the faceoff dot, but the Royals evened it on a power-play goal from Alex Benger and a point shot past a screened Jake Kemp with 3:04 to play in the middle period.
The teams played back-and-forth hockey through much of the third, with Kemp having another strong game in net for the Ice, stopping 28 shots, while Sheldrake was also solid in a 30-save performance.
On Saturday, two goals by Matt Berryman in the opening 20 minutes helped South Island to a 3-1 lead, while Ethan Jang netted the Ice’s lone marker. South Island added another in the second, but goals from Aiden Jenner and Morgan Peace cut the lead to 4-3 heading into the third period.
Christian Macasso tied the match at 16:14, but Devin Fraser restored the Royals lead 87 seconds later. The Ice continued to press and Jang notched his second of the game converting a Macasso and Jenner setup with 7:31 remaining to force the extra frame.
In the overtime period, Titus, a Fruitvale native, drove hard to the net and buried a rebound off Kody Stewart’s shot for the Ice victory.
Kootenay will face 10th place Thompson Blazers in their final two matches of the season in Kamloops this weekend.
“We have to keep focused, even though these teams they don’t have anything to play for right now, we still have to be smart and play our game, try to keep to our system and win some more,” said Boyce.
The eighth place Kootenay Ice (16-21-0-1) will play the top seed in the first round of the BCMML playoffs, with Prince George Cougars currently holding down first place, two points ahead of the Vancouver NE Chiefs heading into the final weekend.
“We’re gearing up to play Prince George,” said Boyce. “They’re a solid team and they’ve shown this league all year that they’re the top team for a reason. I’m hoping they’re going to take us lightly and we can surprise them.”
The Cougars play the Okanagan Rockets in its final two games, while the NE Chiefs face the Valley West Hawks. The Chiefs can overtake PG but need help from the Rockets to overcome the two-point deficit.
The Female Midget AAA Kootenay Wild won 2-of-3 on the weekend that included two shut-out victories over second place Thompson-Okanagan Lakers.
The Wild fell 5-2 to the Lakers in Friday’s match in Vernon with Reece Hunt and Abby Webster scoring in the loss. But the Wild bounced back with a 3-0 win on Saturday on goals from Olivia Buckley, Hunt, and Webster, and a 2-0 victory Sunday with Webster notching the winner and Buckley the insurance marker.
The Wild sit in fourth place, five points back of the Northern Capitals for the favourable third seed. Kootenay can overtake the Prince George team in their final three-game tilt this weekend against the Caps in Beaver Valley. Friday’s game goes at 6 p.m., with Saturday’s faceoff at 3:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9:30 a.m., all at the B.V. Arena.