Fans held their breath on a few close calls late in the game, but the BC Major Midget Kootenay Ice hung on to celebrate a much-needed win over the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds on Sunday at the Cominco Arena.
The fourth-place Thunderbirds scored an empty netter to eke out a 6-4 win on Saturday, but the Ice answered on Sunday with a 2-1 victory that put an end to a four-game losing skid.
“It’s a morale booster,” said Ice coach Kris Boyce. “We played such a good game yesterday and came up short, gave up a goal with five-minutes left on a power play. I just keep telling the guys, keep working hard and things will come. We battled hard that game to get the two points.”
Kootenay captain Keenan Crossman scored the winning goal on the power play Sunday when he banged in a cross-crease pass from Erik Delaire at 12:36 of the second period to put the Ice up 2-0. The goal was Crossman’s sixth of the season, and the Trail native leads the team in scoring with 15 points and a healthy 26 penalty minutes.
“It’s a big win, we lost two on the Island so getting back on track was a big point this weekend,” said Crossman. “Last night we kind of fell apart. We just have to play a full 60 and we’ll be good.”
Kootenay opened the scoring with 2:31 remaining in the first period when Brett Walchuk finished a setup from Nathan Ingram and Kody Stewart.
Two minutes after Crossman made it 2-0, Fraser Valley replied when Ethan Bowen beat Ice goalie Xavier Cannon to draw the T-birds to within one.
The teams battled, and play went back-and-forth in a hard-hitting, grinding affair that saw 20 minor penalties split between the two teams, and two 10-minute misconducts for a hit-to-the-head and hitting-from-behind handed out to the Thunderbirds.
“We like to play physical, and most of the Vancouver teams don’t like it, so anytime we can get a bump in we’ll do it,” said Crossman.
Cannon came up big on numerous Fraser Valley chances in the third period including a sprawling glove save off Bowen on the doorstep with six minutes to play.
“Cannon was top-notch this game,” said Boyce. “He was seeing the puck well, you could tell from the first shot they got, that he was going to have a good game. He was on top of his crease, and he’s a big goalie, when he does that not many pucks are going to get past him.”
The physical play almost backfired when Kootenay took a penalty in the final 1:28 and, with the Thunderbirds goalie pulled, essentially gave them a two-man advantage.
Fraser Valley pressed, but Cannon made a couple stops on a mad scramble in front to preserve the one-goal lead. A penalty to Fraser Valley with 56 seconds remaining relieved some of the pressure, as the Ice thwarted the Fraser Valley attack the rest of the way.
“Going into this game you kind of know the refs in the area, so you go in and tell the guys it’s going to be a power-play, penalty-kill type of game, so our special teams have to be on,” said Boyce. “When we’re on our power play and on our penalty kill, we’re a good team.”
In Saturday’s match, goals came in bunches as the Thunderbirds skated to their 10th win of the season.
Nine seconds after the opening face off Fraser Valley took a 1-0 lead. Simon Nemethy tied it 12 seconds into the second period, but goals from Will Dow-Kenny, Carter Anderson, and Justin Plett in just over a minute gave the Thunderbirds a 4-1 lead. Yet, the Ice chipped away and 61 seconds later Jackson Bohan wired a shot past the Fraser Valley goalie to bring the Ice within two, and Montrose native Jared Macasso notched his first of the season to cut the lead to 4-3 heading into the third.
Fraser Valley’s Jake Mulder scored a shorthanded goal to make it 5-3 with just under five minutes to play, but seconds later Ice forward Adam Pipe again pulled Kootenay to within one. That’s as close as the Ice would get as Mulder scored into an empty net with two seconds left on the clock for the 6-4 final. Kootenay’s Mason McLeod, a Dawson Creek product, had three assists in the game.
Kootenay (6-10-0-2) returns to the coast to play the 10-7-0-1 Vancouver NW Giants this weekend. The Giants are fifth in the BCMML, a point behind Fraser Valley.
“The Giants will be tough, but we just have to have a good week of practice and come into the game prepared to battle, and get another two points,” said Crossman.
Next weekend’s games mark the end of the first half of the season with Kootenay in ninth spot, trailing the 6-9-1-2 Vancouver NE Chiefs by a single point for the final playoff spot.
The Ice open the second half of the season in Delta against the league-leading Valley West Hawks and return home on Dec. 16-17 to host the Chiefs.