The Kootenay Ice hung in for 55 minutes against the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Unfortunately, it only took 19 seconds for the wheels to fall off.
Tied 2-2 late in the final frame, Brad Morrison scored the game winner and Jake Elmer added the insurance a dozen and a half seconds later on the way to a 5-2 win for the ‘Canes.
“They scored the winning goal with three minutes left,” said Ice head coach James Patrick. “It was a huge breakdown, a lack of compete, a flyby by veteran players, the guys who need to come through.”
In spite of the late game defensive breakdown, the Ice played the Hurricanes in a tight contest that featured two tired squads who had just been on the road in Saskatchewan.
“I think for the most part, we played OK,” said Alec Baer, who scored the opening goal for the Ice. “I think both teams were tired coming off a long road trip, but for the most part, it was a chess match and we cracked first.”
The first period was a scoreless affair, but both sides had chances. The Ice got into some penalty trouble and Egor Zudilov missed a wide open net on a backdoor play, however, it remained 0-0 through to the second period.
“I thought it was a real tough game after about the first 10 minutes seeing a lot of special teams, so they had a lot of power plays, it took a lot of our guys out of the game,” said Patrick. “Our third and fourth line didn’t get on much at times.
“The second period, seemed all special teams so I liked the fact that we stayed with it and I thought in the third period, we did some good things; we got some chances, I thought we got some zone time, we spread the ice out.”
Koletrane Wilson put the Hurricanes ahead from the point late in the middle frame, but the Ice answered back just over a minute later when Brett Davis worked some magic in the offensive zone, feeding Baer on a backdoor play who made no mistake.
Early in the third period, Colton Veloso finished off a mad scramble in front of the Lethbridge crease to grab the lead, but the ‘Canes answered back five minutes later when Brad Morrison scored to even it up.
But with 4:38 to go before the final buzzer, the Ice got into trouble.
A broken defensive play allowed Morrison to retrieve the puck in Kootenay territory and he wristed a shot top corner blocker side on Ice goaltender Duncan McGovern.
A dozen and a half seconds later, former Ice forward Jake Elmer plunged in the dagger off a shot from the sidewall on the rush that McGovern probably wanted back.
Jordy Bellerive added the empty-netter to seal the win for Lethbridge.
“They’re a good defensive team, they don’t let up many goals, they got good, big D, they got a good goalie,” said Baer. “We were playing them really well, then we were just the first ones to crack.”
It’s not the first time a late-game breakdown has cost the team, said Patrick.
“We had one in Prince Albert where we played as good a third period as we’ve had in a long time and totally out chanced them and then with a minute left, we had a similar breakdown, even worse,” he said. “Those points are huge right now; there’s no excuse for it because their team was just as tired as ours, both came back from Saskatchewan with 10-hour bus rides on Sunday.”
The loss puts Kootenay in a tough place, as the Red Deer Rebels have made up some ground and, with a win against the Cougars on Monday, are now only two points away from tying the Ice for third place in the Central Division.
Does the team need to adopt a playoff mindset for the rest of the season?
“For me it’s compete and system,” said Patrick. “I felt there was some fatigue in some guys, maybe overplayed some guys tonight, but we didn’t play our system enough and that’s ultimately why we lost. At this time of year when points are huge, you gotta work until it really burns, but you still have to play your system in the D zone.”