Missed opportunities on the ice turned into a missed opportunity in the standings for the Brandon Wheat Kings on Friday night.
The Kootenay Ice rallied for a 3-2 shootout win over the Wheat Kings at Westman Place, preventing Brandon from moving into a tie for first place in the Western Hockey League’s East Division.
Matt Alfaro, a rookie with only two goals this season, notched the clinching goal in the shootout.
"This part of the season it’s all about points, but we couldn’t get the job done tonight," said Brandon rookie Brett Kitt, who scored twice. "I thought we played a pretty solid game, but I mean we have to bear down on our chances and get the win."
And the Wheat Kings had chances. They took a 2-1 lead into the last half of the third period that might have been bigger had Jayce Hawryluk not hit a pair of posts in the second period. Braylon Shmyr was denied on a third-period breakaway by Kootenay goalie Mackenzie Skapski, who was excellent in a 32-save performance, while Richard Nejezchleb was stopped on a breakaway in overtime.
Wheat Kings head coach/ general manager Kelly McCrimmon said his team largely stuck to the game plan.
"I thought we did a lot of things that we wanted to do," McCrimmon said. "We expected it was going to be a 3-2 type game, which was exactly what it ended up being. We had a lot of players that competed hard and played hard."
The Ice (32-22-2-2) came through when it mattered the most, however, with Tim Bozon credited with the tying goal on a deflected Rinat Valiev point shot and potential first overall National Hockey League draft pick Sam Reinhart tallying a goal and an assist. With another home game against the Ice tonight (7:30, Westman Place), the Wheat Kings remain tied for second place in the East Division, although now they are deadlocked with the Swift Current Broncos and trailing the Regina Pats by a single point.
Reinhart opened the scoring in the first period by redirecting the puck past Brandon goalie Jordan Papirny, who was also sharp in a 33-save night.
The Wheat Kings’ fourth line answered only 56 seconds later as Kitt scored his first goal since Nov. 29, driving to the net and lifting a backhand over Skapski.
The wait for Kitt’s next goal was much shorter. Midway through the second period, he took a pass from Jesse Gabrielle and turned on the afterburners, barging between the Ice defenceman for a breakaway and firing the puck into the top corner.
"You look for people to step up when you’re missing players from your lineup," said McCrimmon, whose team played without two of its top three goal-scorers, in John Quenneville and Rihards Bukarts. "I thought Brett scored two great goals. He scored a real nice goal in the first period, a big goal for our team, and then great speed and a great shot to score the go-ahead goal in the second period."
Brandon carried that lead until Kootenay tied the game on the deflected point shot with 8:46 left in regulation.
Both teams had excellent chances to pot a late winner, with Skapski stopping Shmyr on his breakaway, while Reinhart fired a shot off the post. The Wheat Kings had the best opportunity of overtime on Nejezchleb’s breakaway.
In the shootout, Zach Franko struck first for the Ice, but he was matched by Shmyr, who roofed a backhand after deking Skapski. Brandon wouldn’t score again, however, and Alfaro — Kootenay’s sixth shooter — netted the decisive goal on a deke.
@:ONE-TIMERS: Attendance was 3,549 … Quenneville and Bukarts sat out due to upper-body injuries, while D Kord Pankewicz was a healthy scratch for Brandon … Ice LW Ryan Chynoweth left the game in the third period after a hit from Wheat Kings C Quintin Lisoway … Reinhart is on a 16-game point-scoring streak, two games short of the WHL’s longest this season and one short of the 16-game tear Medicine Hat C Curtis Valk is on.