Kootenay hits the road in search of scoring
by Jeff Bromley
The defending WHL champs hit the road this week for an extended stay as the club embarks on a two-part, nine-game odyssey away from the Cranbrook Rec Plex which is occupied by the Canada Cup of curling until December 4.
After dropping two of their last three games at the Rec Plex – the Ice dumped the Seattle Thunderbirds 5-1 Saturday night sandwiched by one goal losses to the Tri-City Americans Wednesday and a Sunday night 2-1 loss to the Saskatoon Blades to finish off the seven-game home stand – the club will travel throughout the BC and East Divisions hopeful to return with some consistent offense and a passing grade to what amounts to the biggest test of the season.
At 13-5-1-2, 29 points and fifth in the crowded Eastern Conference standings that separated from first to eighth by six points, the Ice put in one of the club’s best efforts of the season Sunday night against the Blades but weren’t rewarded for it as Blade import netminder Andrey Makarov stopped 36 of 37 shots in the 2-1 win. “He made some good saves,” said Ice scoring leader Max Reinhart, who managed to get the only goal by the Russian goalie on a power play late in the first period. “To only let in one goal throughout the game, he had to be good but we did pass up shots that we should’ve taken. It’s something we addressed and I thought we got better as the game went on but it was a little too late for us. We’ve got to stay out of the box against a team like that. Both of their goals were on the power play.”
The Ice found themselves in-deep early as both F Eric Benoit and D John Neibrandt were sent to the box in the first two minutes of play giving the Blades a 5-on-3. Darren Dietz fired a slapshot from the point through a maze of players that found the back of the net for a 1-0 Saskatoon lead. From then on it was the Ice who dominated the visitors, out-shooting the Blades 13-5 in the first period and cashing in on a 5-on-3 of their own late in the first. Off the face-off Reinhart took the puck off the half-wall and circled to the slot, waiting long enough for a crowd to form before snapping his 9th of the season past Makarov. A scoreless second period – again in which the Ice out-shot the Blades 16-6 – came up empty-handed for the Ice as shot after shot was turned back by Makarov. An ill-advised penalty by Jagger Dirk late in the third gave the Blades the chance they needed and they capitalized when Brent Benson shot a rebound over Nathan Lieuwen for the eventual game-winner.
Following the game Ice head coach Kris Knoblauch wasn’t going to criticize his club for a lack of effort. “Our effort was there,” said the second-year bench boss. “It’s something I won’t question tonight. They played extremely hard and it was one of our best overall performances but if there is an area of improvement needed it’s shooting the puck.”
Though the club directed a barrage of 37 shots at Makarov as well as the 28 fired at Eric Comrie Wednesday against the Americans and another 32 against the Thunderbirds Saturday, Knoblauch wants more shots. Averaging over 30 shots per game, Knoblauch thinks it's essential to combat the club’s scoring issues. “Tonight we had 30-odd shots but passed up some good opportunities to shoot the puck, especially in the second period when we had a couple of 2-on-1’s and didn’t get anything from them,” said Knoblauch. “Maybe because we were playing so well we figured we could make those plays but we have to shoot the puck more.”
Quick Hits – The club’s first test on the road will be Friday in Victoria against the Royals. Max Reinhart will re-join the club in time for the game after playing in both CHL Subway Super Series games in Regina and Moose Jaw November 16 and 17. The two games will have an impact whether or not Reinhart gets the invite to Team Canada’s Selection Camp for the World Junior team December 10-14…G Nathan Lieuwen was the WHL Goaltender of the Month for September/October... Kootenay lost F Eric Benoit to an unspecified injury in the first period Sunday... F Brendan Hurley should return to action for the road trip after missing over a month with a knee injury.