The Kootenay Ice rebounded from a loss on Saturday night to defeat the Greater Vancouver Canadians 4-3 in a thrilling match up Sunday morning at the Cominco Arena.
Ice rookie Austin McKenzie scored the game-winning goal on a power play at 11:15 of the third period to give Kootenay a seemingly comfortable 4-1 lead. The 15-year-old Fruitvale native cruised through the slot and deflected in a point shot from defenceman Gavin Damstrom for his first tally of the season.
The win against the sixth-place (10-7-2-1) Canadians is the first in 11 games for Kootenay, who have gone 1-9-1-0 over that stretch.
“It’s huge, the atmosphere in the room is pretty excited right now,” said Kootenay assistant coach Mason Spear. “It’s been a tough year, we’re not getting a lot of bounces but it’s good to finally get that one out of the way.”
Canadians forward Zachary Sherman scored at 8:46 of the first period, but Ice goalie Tenzin Mint kept the score close with several big saves in the opening 20.
Nelson native Joe Davidson put Kootenay on the board, jumping on a fortuitous bounce off the back wall and shovelling it by the bewildered Vancouver goalie, Georgi Wilson, 49 seconds into the middle frame.
The Ice were foiled on a couple of great chances. First Jaxson Waterstreet dangled in front and, with the goalie down and out, was robbed by the glove, then Michel Hjelkrem failed to capitalize on a penalty shot after being hauled down on a clear breakaway.
But Slade Desharnais made it 2-1 at 2:33 tipping in an Anthony Williams point shot to give the Ice a 2-1 lead heading into the third.
Special teams are arguably a team’s most important asset in Major Midget hockey, and the Ice’s penalty kill came up big, after Kootenay was called for a five minute head-contact penalty to start the third.
“Tenzin Mint is probably our best penalty killer, and to be successful on the penalty kill I think you’re goalie has to steal a few, and he definitely did that today.”
Mint kept the Ice in it with several big stops. The Nelson native was coming off his first KIJHL win and shutout after getting the call up on Saturday night with the Nelson Leafs. The Leafs beat the Castlegar Rebels 5-0 and Mint earned Game Star for his 21-save performance in his second start for the Jr. B team.
“After coming off a first shutout and win in the KI, he’s definitely rolling right now, and from the crease out it showed, and we built off that momentum and had a lot of huge kills,” said Spear.
The Ice went on their own power play at 13:41 on a slashing penalty to Nathan Racey. Davidson worked the puck to McKenzie down low and he passed to Waterstreet in front, who beat Wilson for a 3-1 lead at 13:20.
Following McKenzie’s goal to give the Ice a 4-1 lead, the Canadians had a goal called back because of goalie interference. However, they finally beat the Ice netminder when Gabriel Parent was allowed to walk in and snap a shot past Mint to make the score 4-2 at 4:14. Thirty-four seconds later Van Lupien broke in used the defenceman as a screen and wired a shot that deflected off the d-man and past Mint to make the score 4-3.
The Canadians pulled their goalie and had several chances in the dying minutes but the Ice goalie was the difference stopping 51 shots to preserve the win for Kootenay.
In Saturday’s match up, three first-period goals set the stage for the Canadians as they rolled to a 6-2 victory. Greater Vancouver took a 3-0 lead on tallies from Alex Stephens, Parent, and Lupien, and added two more in the second stanza from Ryan Watson and Tanner Gushel for a 5-0 lead.
The Ice clawed back two with goals from Noah Quinn and Dawson Reinfjell, but Sherwin completed the scoring for a 6-2 Canadians victory.
Following a rough stretch, the victory bumps Kootenay into 10th spot in the BC Major Midget League and gives the team a confidence boost heading into the weekend. The Ice trail the South Island Royals by two points, as the Royals managed a split with the Okanagan Rockets.
Kootenay travels to Abbotsford to take on the first place Fraser Valley Thunderbirds this weekend.
“It starts Tuesday,” said Spear. “We’ll ride this high for a little bit, but we’ll get back to work and get prepared for next weekend.”