Ice 4 Rebels 2
Most often you earn a win, but sometimes you steal one.
The Kootenay Ice stole one Saturday night at the Enmax Centrium. Or rather, Wyatt Hoflin stole one.
Hoflin turned aside 33 shots in a standout performance as the Ice pulled out a 4-2 Western Hockey League win over the Rebels before a recorded crowd of 5,087.
“He was great for us,” said Ice assistant coach Jay Henderson. “Our defence was a little slow in moving pucks and Wyatt did a great job. I give him credit for the two points.”
As Henderson noted, Hoflin has been a major reason this season that Kootenay are on the verge of finishing fourth in the Central Division and have clinched a playoff berth.
“He’s been, as far as I’m concerned, our MVP,” said Henderson. “He’s played a lot of games, probably too many. But we depend a lot on him and we are where we are right now because of him, for sure.”
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter was impressed with Hoflin. As for his own netminder, Rylan Toth, not so much.
“The difference in the game, as you could see, was their goalie outplayed ours. That’s the bottom line,” said Sutter.
“It’s unfortunate, because we actually played a heck of a hockey game. Our puck possession time was certainly dominant and for scoring chances we were dominant in that category too.
“You’re leaving it for chance, you’re tied 2-2 and had tons of chances and haven’t capitalized on them. Then they get a bad goal on you. I didn’t think Tother was sharp tonight. I didn’t like the first goal on him, I thought it caught him by surprise. And certainly the third goal wasn’t good on him either.”
Red Deer led 1-0 after one period on Brooks Maxwell’s 26th goal of the season, a deflection of a point shot by Kayle Doetzel.
Despite being clearly outplayed in the middle frame, the visitors outscored their hosts 2-1. Ice rookie Vince Loschiavo whirled around and beat Toth to the far side with a shot from the top of the right faceoff circle, then Scott Feser restored the Rebels’ lead, chipping the puck over a fallen Hoflin following a terrific turnover creation by Evan Polei.
Toth, who finished with 20 saves, had no chance on Kootenay’s second goal, at 16:09. Austin Vetteri pulled the trigger after taking a perfect pass from Tyler King across the low slot.
The Rebels goaltender didn’t look good on the eventual winner, though, as Matt Alfaro connected from along the goal line. Tim Bozon added an empty-net goal with 30 seconds remaining in the game.
“As far as our overall game, I was very pleased with it. We played well tonight and we played hard,” said Sutter.
But it wasn’t their turn to be rewarded.
“Things even out through the year,” said Sutter. “There are nights when you don’t play well and win and nights when you play exceptionally well, like we did tonight, and you don’t win. We didn’t capitalize on some great chances, their goalie made some great saves and at the end of the night they get an unfortunate one on us. But that’s the way it works. That’s the game of hockey.”
The loss left the Rebels five points behind the Central Division leading Calgary Hitmen, who swept a home-and-home with the Lethbridge Hurricanes Saturday and Sunday, and four points behind the second-place Medicine Hat Tigers, who doubled the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings 6-3 Saturday and fell 4-3 in overtime at home to the Prince Albert Raiders Sunday.
Red Deer, Calgary and Medicine Hat each have three regular-season games remaining.
Meanwhile, the Ice are three points ahead of the fifth-place Oil Kings in the division with a game in hand.
“It’s important to be playing meaningful games at this time of the year. There’s nothing worse than going into playoffs not having played meaningful games,” said Henderson. “We’re trying to keep our lead over (the Oil Kings) and they’re playing good hockey right now too, so we have to take care of ourselves.”
The Rebels close out their regular-season slate with road games Wednesday and Friday versus Calgary and Edmonton and a home date with the Oil Kings Saturday.
• Defenceman Colton Bobyk returned to the Rebels line Saturday after missing 12 games with a lower-body injury.