The road to the BC Major Midget League playoffs got a little steeper for the Kootenay Ice after earning a point in a pair of games against the Greater Vancouver Canadiens on the weekend.
The Ice fell 3-2 in overtime on Saturday and lost a close 5-4 match on Sunday at the Cominco Arena to fall a point behind the North Island Silvertips for the eighth and final playoff spot in the BCMML standings, however, the Ice have two games in hand.
“We played two close games, and to lose by a goal in both of them – they’re tough losses for sure,” said Kootenay head coach Kris Boyce. “Seventh, eighth, and ninth – we’re all within a couple points, so every game matters.”
In Sunday’s match, the Ice fought back from a 5-2 deficit, scoring twice in the final four minutes, but couldn’t quite complete the comeback for a 5-4 setback.
The Canadians Dillon Maher opened the scoring less than two minutes in, beating Ice goalie Jake Kemp, but Kootenay replied before the period was out when Cranbrook native Ryan Bennett finished a setup from Quaid Anderson to make it 1-1 heading into the second period.
The Ice dominated the Canadians in the early going of the middle stanza, and had a glorious scoring chance when the puck sprung free off a scramble in front, right to Kootenay captain Keenan Crossman at the side of the net, but Vancouver goalie Elliot Marshall made a sprawling glove save to keep the score deadlocked at one.
The Ice kept pressing, and took a 2-1 lead when Adam Pipe broke in on a 2-on-1 and hit Booker Daniel who blew by the defenceman and walked in all alone on Marshall. The Vancouver goalie stopped the initial shot, but Daniel stuck with it and batted in the rebound with 8:09 to play in the middle frame.
However, following an unsportsmanlike penalty to the Ice, the Canadians tied it on the power play on a point shot from Gabriel Parent that went off Kemp’s glove and in at 4:11 of the second.
Thirty-one seconds later, the Canadians took the lead on a point-shot deftly tipped into the top corner by Van Lupien.
Vancouver made it 4-2 on a delayed penalty call and a nice cross-ice pass and finish from Will Thompson at 12:45. The Ice had another great scoring chance when an Ice forward broke in and rang one off the post only to see the Canadians go the other way and Anton Cizmok score for a three-goal cushion.
The Ice made it interesting, scoring a power-play goal on Daniel’s shot from the top of the circle that beat Marshall glove side with four minutes remaining for his team-leading 10th goal of the season.
A slashing call on Canadian’s defenceman Hayden Tuba at 2:31 gave the Ice another opportunity, and Anderson’s low blast from the point went through traffic to make it a one-goal game with just 1:49 to play.
Kootenay pulled their goalie for an extra attacker in the final minute but came up empty.
“We played pretty well for most of the game and then came out in the third period just flat,” said Boyce. “We spotted them two goals in the third period, and we couldn’t comeback from being three goals down.”
In Friday’s match, the Ice struggled to get anything going in the first two periods, and were down 2-0 heading into the third. But Ice forward Erik Delaire netted his fourth goal of the season just 49 seconds into the third to cut the lead to one, and Daniel tied the game at two with 6:02 to play to force the overtime.
“We came back from Christmas break and went over to the Okanagan and played two very good games against Everett, and beat them both games,” said Boyce. “So when you come back and play teams in your own league, it’s a little bit different. We didn’t come out prepared in the first game. The first two periods were slow, but the third period we played really well and came back to tie that game.”
While the losses sting, the 8-15-0-3 Ice are far from out of it, having played 14 games this season that have been decided by one goal. The Silvertips defeated the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds 6-4 on Sunday to move a point ahead of Kootenay for the final playoff spot, while the Vancouver NE Chiefs are in seventh with 24 points, five points up on the Ice.
The Ice are also without their leading scorer Simon Nemethy who is injured and likely out for the next month.
Kootenay is at home again this weekend when they host the 13-9-3-1 Okanagan Rockets. The Ice split their first two games with the Rockets this season beating them 3-2 on Oct. 29 in Kelowna after suffering a 3-0 loss the previous day. The puck drops at 4 p.m. on Saturday and 9:45 a.m. on Sunday at the Cominco Arena.