After clicking for two goals in a well-played first period, the Kitimat Ice Demons, with the West Division clinched, fell foul of penalty trouble and wound up on the wrong end of an ugly 8-2 loss to the Terrace River Kings Friday, January 6, in Terrace.
From Terrace’s point of view a second-period collapse by the Kitimat defence couldn’t have come at a better time, as another loss would probably have ended the River Kings chances to get back into the playoff race.
The two points brought Terrace back into second place in the West with two games to play.
However, despite a good skating effort Saturday as well, the River Kings dropped a 2-1 decision to the undefeated league leaders, the Smithers Steelheads on home ice.
On Friday the Ice Demons, short a couple of key players, got off to a 2-0 first period lead on goals by Steven Venman (Doug Wilson, Jeff Mildenberger) and Mildenberger (attributed on the score sheet to Craig Hewitson) and looked to be in charge.
But a series of early penalties gave the Kings an opportunity to change the momentum – and they got one goal back with seven minutes remaining in the first period with Josh Slanina and Josh Masch both in the box for two minutes.
Terrace passed the puck around well and Steve Cullis re-directed a heavy point shot by Toby Mitchell past Brett Vilness in the Kitimat net.
That was it for the first, with Kitimat out-shooting Terrace 13-8, despite taking four minor penalties to two for the Kings.
In the second the Ice Demons began to show some hesitation in their passing game and, with the Terrace team looking to have better legs and more incentive to win, the Kings began to dictate a lot of the play.
It paid off just over six minutes into the period with another power play goal, this time with Jeff Baker in the box for a cross check.
Cullis earned an assist to go with his first period goal when he passed to Tristan Murray who lifted a quick wrist shot behind Vilness.
Two rapid fire goals by Terrace put Kitimat down 4-2 when Cameron Kerr picked up a kicked pass into the blue paint in the Kitimat crease and put a six-incher into the net with 8.47 left in the period from Richard Clair and Garrett Kerr.
Within a minute Calen Findlay added the second after picking up a pass from Derek Jurista who caused a turnover in the Kitimat defensive zone.
Down 4-2, Kitimat committed another bad turnover in their own zone, allowing Murray to cut in and beat Vilness low for a -5-2 lead at the second intermission.
Demons changed goaltenders, but Kollin Alderman’s luck was no better than the previous goaltender, as he gave up another deflected goal, again in a shorthanded situation, on his first shot as Findlay was the beneficiary of a lucky redirect on a shot from Corbin Legros.
Just three minutes later Alderman juggled a shot from Tristan Murray which dropped in the crease in front of Josh Murray for an easy goal.
Just to illustrate how Kitimat’s defensive confidence had crumbled, another fluttering puck stopped by Alderman dropped in the crease and was accidentally kicked over the line by Ian Coleman, with the goal awarded to Rajan Sangha.
Kitimat was to play its final game of the regular season in Prince Rupert this past Saturday and will have to wait to see how the final points stack up to see who the opposition will be in the first round of the playoffs.
In Saturday games Smithers, as reported above, edged Terrace 2-1, Williams Lake doubled the Omineca Ice 8-4, while the Lac La Hache Tomahawks helped changed the playoff picture by defeating the Quesnel Kangaroos 7-3 on home ice.
Remaining West and Central Division games have Ice Demons in Rupert against the Rampage, Houston Luckies in Terrace, and the Smithers Steelheads, going for a perfect undefeated season, hosting the Hazelton Wolverines.
Lac La Hache and Quesnel meet again, but the Tomahawks will find it tougher going in Quesnel where the Kangaroos will be trying to clinch second spot in the East behind idle Williams Lake Stampeders.