The Kitimat Ice Demons moved one step closer to another CIHL playoff championship by out-skating and out-scoring the Western Division Williams Lake Stampeders, 7-4, in the opening game of the best-of-three Riot Tinto Cup CIHL playoffs at Tamitik Arena, Saturday night.
It was an exciting end-to-end game but the Demons, buoyed by the recall of their first game loss by a score of 12-2, a year ago, were determined to show Williams Lake that the Ice Demons had changed.
With rookie goaltender Kollin Alderman in net, the line of Wade Masch, flanked by Blaine Markwart and Craig Hewitson set the rink on fire in the first period, with Markwart scoring the natural hat-trick to help the Demons to a 4-3 lead at the end of the first period.
From then on it was all Demons as the Stampeders found few chances to score with only 12 shots in the second period and eight in the third.
Meanwhile the Ice Demons took away the ice effectively, poured 20 shots at goalie Justin Foote, in the second period alone, when they added three more goals to the first period tally and coasted through an effective third period, out-shooting the bewildered Stampeders 12-8 while they played a good control game.
Williams Lake opened the scoring on a very evenly-played first period when Paul Girodat finished off a passing play with Stamps’ captain Aaron Zurak at the 6.18, after Demons failed to clear a puck up the boards and Zurak intercepted and turned the play back, with two Demon forwards on a rush.
It took the Ice Demons 88 seconds to correct that error and Demons’ captain Derek Wakita put the puck in the twine in a goalmouth crush after Ian Coleman and Terry Whelan carried the puck up ice.
Williams Lake regained the lead with 10.18 gone in the period when Chris Bohlin (Gilbert Robbins) got in the clear and backed Alderman into his net before lofting it up over his left shoulder.
The Ice Demons again struck back very quickly as the Markwart-Masch-Hewitson combination went to work off the ensuing face-off and just 31 seconds later Markwart showed his great hand-eye skill at the front of the net, taking two taps at a rebound off a Hewitson shot to get it behind Justin Foote.
Hewitson and Masch both earned assists.
The end-to-end play continued and exactly six minutes later Markwart had his stick in the air in jubilation, scoring his second goal, as the Demons continued to move the puck around well in the Stampeders end, set up again by Masch and Hewitson. Masch was awarded the only assist.
But Williams Lake were fast to take the cheering noise out of the building as Wilfred Robbins took a pass up the middle from Jeff Gagnon and spotted prolific scorer Francis Johnson behind the defence at the edge of the crease. Johnson had a tip in to tie the game at 3-3, just 20 seconds later.
Demons took the lead again as Markwart finished the natural hat-trick with a blast from a setup pass by Craig Hewitson that was in the net before Justin Foote could move on it.
Derek Wakita also earned an assist on the passing play that came with only 24 seconds left in the fast-paced opening period.
Referee Chris Daniels let the play flow and had called only one penalty, to Williams Lake, until two unlikely opponents, Jeff Baker and Stamps fluid skater Wilfred Robbins got into a wrestling match behind the Kitimat net.
Both skaters went to box with roughing and unsporstmanlike conduct, Robbins also getting an extra two minutes for the slash that started the melee.
The Ice Demons took total control of the game in the second period, adding three goals on a total of 20 shots that showed why Justin Foote was credited with a 60-save shutout against Smithers last week.
But Foote’s luck of a week ago just didn’t hold out as Kory Finn broke in on him at the 11.44 mark of the period and rifled a wrister behind the big goaltender. The assist on what proved to be the game-winning goal, went to Adam Buick,
The Demons kept piling on the shots with a great control game as the Stampeders couldn’t seem to handle the ferocious fore-check that was part of the Demons’ strategy for the game.
Four minutes later Jeff Mildenberger put the icing on the cake with a great seeing-eye goal on a power-play that saw Foote inundated with rubber. Terry Whelan and Dave Venman assisted.
And Markwart put the cherry on top just 23 seconds after Mildenberger’s goal when he followed Craig Hewitson into the crease on a hard rush on net and tapped home the rebound off Foote’s pad. Hewitson and Dave Venman again, had the assists on the play.
In the third period the Demons had several opportunities to score denied as they continued to out-skate and out-shoot the tiring Stampeders. But it was the Stamps that got the only goal of the period after the Demons again failed to get a puck out of their zone to get a change-up.
The puck was snapped out of the air by Curtis Gassof, relayed to the corner by Paul Girodat and snapped high into the net by Jason Wright over Alderman as he slid to his left to cover the loose player.
With under seven minutes left to play, the Ice Demons simply controlled the puck and did not allow the Stampeders any room to form much offense.
There were no penalties in the last 10 minutes of play as the Demons guarded their three goal lead and made sure the Stampeders didn’t get much more to shoot at.
When they did have other chances in the period, rookie Kollin Alderman looked much more comfortable and was well positioned to stop them.
Head coach Danny Baker said he was pleased with the way the Ice Demons controlled the play for much of the game as he rolled over four lines steadily.
“All the lines contributed well and we were ready for them this year. Alderman played very well in net, under a lot of pressure, and the boys in front limited the Stampeders chances to get at him.”
The Markwart-Masch-Hewitson line combined for a total of nine points in Markwart’s four-goal outburst. That moved Hewitson into a tie with Stamps’ Wilfred Robbins and Rampage’s Brett Stava, all with 11 points, at the top of the playoff scoring list.
About 950 Ice Demons fans were dismayed and shaking their heads when the Stampeders left the bench and went straight to the locker room at the final whistle without shaking hands as normally expected in all CIHL games.
Game two of the final series goes this Saturday (and Sunday, if necessary) in Williams Lake.