The Kootenay Ice dropped their third straight game with a 5-4 loss to the visiting Spokane Chiefs on Saturday at Western Financial Place.
Former Ice forward Hudson Elynuik caught fire for the Chiefs, scoring a shorthanded goal and potting four assists for a five point night. Nolan Reid also tallied a pair, while Zach Fischer rounded out the scoring.
Kootenay replied with two goals from Cameron Hausinger, along with markers from Ryan Pouliot and Alec Baer.
Ice netminder Kurtis Chapman was under siege in the first period, turning away 22 shots while Hausinger scored in the final minute for a late lead.
“We just got to work on our starts a little bit,” said Hausinger. “It’s a level of preparation that we need work on. It’s a very vital part of the game, the way you dictate the start of the game is the way the rest of the game is going to carry out, so we got to get ahold of that because this is two nights in a row we’ve come out loosey-goosey and we got a little lucky tonight with the saves that Chapman made.”
Before the first period ended, Hausinger took a pass and drove to the net, roofing a shot to put the Ice up on the board.
Despite the goal, the team was mindful that it wasn’t a good enough start given the amount of shots they gave up.
“Our goalie stood on his head,” added defenceman Ryan Pouliot. “it could have been worse this first period than it was, so I think we owe it to Chapman for this first period here.”
Given the level of talent on the Chiefs roster — five NHL draft picks and a bunch of 2018-eligible players — Ice head coach James Patrick said his team played a bit timid to start.
“I think we had a number of guys who were just scared of…maybe they didn’t want the puck,” Patrick said. “You’ve got to want the puck, so I thought that was a big part of the first period.”
Hausinger notched his second of the game in the middle period, finishing a slick feed from Colton Veloso, who dug the puck out from the corner and threw it into slot.
However, the wheels fell off when Carter Chorney got whistled for a checking from behind penalty, but it was the Chiefs — and former Ice forward Elynuik — that made the Ice pay shorthanded.
Elynuik and Jaret Anderson-Dolan both used their speed and creativity to turn the play back into Kootenay territory and score two quick goals just over a minute apart to tie up the game.
“The life we gave them in that powerplay was probably the difference in the game,” said Ice head coach James Patrick.
After the shorthanded efforts, Zach Fischer took advantage of a fat rebound in front of the crease to give the Chiefs their first lead at 3-2 just after the halfway mark of the game.
However, the Ice weren’t done yet.
Pouliot trailed the play during a rush into Spokane territory, receiving a pass from Keenan Taphorn and wiring a wrister to knot up the game at 3-3 after 40 minutes.
The Chiefs started the final period on the powerplay and Reid posted his first goal after some nice puck movement in the Kootenay zone. He tallied his second of the game with a huge slap shot 10 minutes later.
Searching for some life, Baer provided a late game spark, gathering steam in the neutral zone, blitzing down the wing and cutting in front of the crease to stuff the puck into the net. Despite some late pressure, Kootenay couldn’t find the equalizer.
It’s been a tough stretch for the hometown team, which has been hit with the injury bug to key players, while rookie sensation Peyton Krebs is away representing Team Canada at the World U17 Challenge.
Patrick has challenged his group to step up and take on bigger roles in light of the injuries.
One of those who has stepped up to the plate is Hausinger, who lit the lamp twice and was a physical menace all night while skating up the middle even though his natural position is on the wing.
“That’s been back-to-back games where he’s probably been our best forward,” said Patrick. “He’s an energy guy who needs to skate and he did. He’s not afraid, that’s one thing I’ll say about him, and he showed it tonight.
“…He’s been one of our best faceoff men the last two nights, he gets in other teams’ faces, he’s involved in all aspects of the game and obviously tonight, he made some big plays for us.”
Connor McClennon, Kootenay’s second overall pick from the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, also drew into his second straight WHL game while up on an emergency recall.
NOTES: Ice forward Peyton Krebs and Team Canada Red captured a silver medal in the championship match against Team USA at the World U17 Challenge. The Americans scored four goals in the first period on their way to a 6-4 win over Canada to win the gold medal. Krebs finished the tournament with one goal and five assists in five games played. Cranbrook product Bowen Byram, a defenceman with the Vancouver Giants who suited up alongside Krebs, was named to the tournament All-Star team.