Another contest between the Swift Current Broncos and Kootenay ICE brought a neck-and-neck battle with a narrow margin between winning and losing.
After losses of 2-0 and 2-1 (OT) to the ICE at the Innovation Credit Union iPlex, the Broncos dropped a Friday night fight 3-2 in their first road meeting of the season.
Both teams were hot-and-cold with puck possession throughout the game.
Kootenay found the back of the net first, as Connor McClennon buried one past Isaac Poulter just under 11 minutes into the game.
However, Owen Blocker ripped home his fourth of the season over the right pad of Jesse Makaj six minutes later.
That 1-1 draw held through to the second period, where the Broncos took the lead on a milestone strike.
The lone goal of the period came off the tape of Christian Riemer, for his first in the WHL, with 12:10 left in the middle frame.
That 2-1 lead lasted past the midway point of the third, where momentum was flipped heavily in Kootenay’s favour. Heavy possession time was finally rewarded for the ICE with 8:18 to go, when McClennon ripped home his second of the game.
Though a few prime chances were sprinkled in for the Broncos the final eight minutes, one rush was all the ICE needed to pull ahead and seal the game.
Captain Peyton Krebs flew down the left side into the Broncos’ zone, snuck a pass between the legs of a defender onto the tape of a streaking Jaeger White, who tucked the puck around the toe of an outstretched Poulter.
“They have some players that can hurt you,” admitted Broncos assistant coach Brandin Cote. “I think all three games that we’ve played Kootenay this year, Krebs has found a way to make one or two plays where we’re not ready. He’s a good player, he makes them count.”
“That was disappointing in that we just had some mental lapses in the third period, little turnovers at our blue line – we talked about managing the puck at the right times at the right spots. The wrong turnovers turned into goals-against in the third and that’s what cost us the game.”
The goal came with 52 seconds left in the game. Despite the Broncos’ best effort with the net empty over the final 37.7 seconds and the puck not leaving the offensive zone, a steady scoring chance wasn’t to be had.
“Those last-minute plays are tough to execute a lot of times – they’re desperate as well,” Cote said. “The puck just didn’t bounce our way.”
“Ultimately in the third period, we talk about earning our wins and earning success, and for the most part we had good efforts from a lot of guys, but as a young group, we have to mature in ways where we know that we’re going to come out on the winning end,” said Cote, on the Broncos’ quest for their 11th win of the season.
“That just comes from not being afraid to lose, and going after it. We just sat back a little bit in the third period at times, we got caught in our end and they made us pay in those situations. Again, another learning experience for us. You never win after 40 minutes – you’ve got to play a full 60, or as close to it as you can.”
Isaac Poulter stood tall in net for the Broncos, making 28 saves on 31 shots. Opposite of him, Makaj stopped 24 of 26 Broncos shots.
The Broncos also posted another strong game on the PK, holding the ICE off the board on four chances on the man-advantage.
“We’ve been working on it a lot this year. It took us a little while to get it where we wanted it,” said Cote. “It’s still not perfect by any means, but we’re confident, we’re getting a little more aggressive, our structure at our blueline and our forecheck is really good. Sticks and body-position has been the biggest thing, and obviously goaltending is a huge part of that.”
Though 0-for-2 on the powerplay, a scoreless result was far from a glaring factor in the loss.
“Specialty teams really weren’t our issue tonight, it was just a few little errors 5-on-5 at the wrong times, and too bad we couldn’t find a way to at least get a point here tonight,” Cote explained.
Up next, the Broncos look to snap a brief two-game slide Saturday night, as they’re in southern Alberta taking on a Lethbridge Hurricanes club that’s coming off a 6-2 win over the Red Deer Rebels at home Friday night.
Jake Leschyshyn, Nick Henry, and Igor Merezhko all had two goal games for the Hurricanes in the win.
“It’s going to be a challenge for sure. We’ve played some pretty good games against Lethbridge for the most part this year,” said Cote. “They have a lot of skill, a lot of depth up front, so we’re going to have to be ready for that.”
With their mind on the day-to-day improvement of a young roster, the Broncos admittedly would take pride in snatching two points away from teams jostling for positioning in the WHL’s playoff picture.
“At this time of the year, there’s Lethbridge chomping at the bit to get points here. They’re fighting for positioning in their division. So, they’re going to be ready to go, they’re going to be desperate. We talked about – especially against teams that are in those playoff positions – try to be the spoiler a little bit.”
Though, it’s also a case of the young team learning to conquer the grind and find a steady routine over the course of the 68-game regular season.
“Our message at the end of the game was clean up those mental errors at the wrong times, and just we have to continue to mature and respond that way,” said Cote. “That’s just coming to the rink, it’s a new day, a new game, a new set of challenges ahead of us. Hopefully we’ll be ready to go tomorrow and give them a good game.”
The Broncos will try and jump back in the win column tonight against the Hurricanes in an 8 p.m. start.
Catch all the action live on The Eagle 94.1 for Robertson Family Group Swift Current Broncos Hockey, with pregame live at 7:30 Sask time.