The Kitimat Ice Demons have run into another early-season spate of injuries and split their home ice Hallowe’en weekend games, narrowly losing 3-2 to the undefeated Smithers Steelheads on Saturday night, but recovering for a 6-3 win, outlasting the tiring and short-benched Houston Luckies by a score of 6-3 on Sunday.
The two games showed the Ice Demons still have some punch, but are hurting on defense without regulars Chris Vilness, Robb Lafferty and David Venman, with players like Jeremy Brady, Kory Finn, and Daniel Mayer not available Saturday and Craig Hewitson added to the list of the missing on Sunday after a low hit early in the game against the Steelheads.
So the narrow one-goal loss Saturday night and the steadier game Sunday left the Ice Demons still leading their division – but with two losses in six games and some line-up challenges for upcoming games against the River Kings and undefeated newcomers, the Quesnel Kangaroos.
On Saturday, with both teams minus important players, Kitimat (short the three regulars on defense) and Smithers (missing offensive stars Rob Millar and Ian Smith) dragged out a hard-hitting affair for a long time before Smithers came from behind to tie – and ultimately take advantage of a slow change by the Ice Demons to break in for the winner in the third period, scored by Randall Groot (Stu Barnes and Adam DeVries).
It was a taciturn game, with plenty of banging and with both teams guilty of too many turn-overs.
There were few penalties – for the Demons only four minors, and the Steelheads six. But it was an aggressive game with a fair bit of hitting, interference and pushing and shoving in the goalmouth areas and referee Chris Daniels seemed inclined to let the players play.
This game certainly didn’t point to West division superiority as both Mike Wall and Brandon Highton for Kitimat were both very stingy in net, putting on good displays of goal tending.
It was that kind of game – no score after the first, while opportunities abounded at both ends.
Smithers took a lead on a nice up-the middle-move by Mitch Pederson from Matt and Mark Arnold with just five minutes gone in the second.
The Ice Demons came right back, just 75 seconds later, with a nice solo rush goal by William DeJong, in his first CIHL game, who went five-hole on Wall. Assists were given to Blaine Markwart and Terry Whelan.
Demons went ahead on a power play with Markwart bulging the net (Ian Coleman, Wade Nicholson) just 39 seconds later.
But with less than eight minutes left in the period Smithers engineered a nice move, again up the middle, after Kitimat turned over the puck on a great scoring opportunity of their own.
Darryl Young finished off a fast passing play with a hard low shot that Highton could not get to. Cody Cringan earned a valuable assist.
The teams went to the second intermission tied at two.
Smithers seemed to have a bit of extra jump in the third, when referee Daniels decided to call a couple of penalties as the teams scrummed a couple of times in front of both goals.
With 6.57 remaining the Steelheads caught the Demons on a bad change and Groot was the recipient of a nice up-ice pass from Stu Barnes that sent him in alone on Highton, who got some of the shot but saw it hit the net behind him.
Wall and Highton made a lot of stops as neither team seemed able to get the upper hand as the clock wound down.
Shots in the game, Smithers 37, Kitimat 36 – but you can’t say enough about shot blocking by both defenses.
On Sunday, the Houston Luckies had only 13 players on the road and that wasn’t enough to handle the Ice Demons who went to their reserves, plus former veteran Demons defenseman Doug Wilson, to fill holes on the defense.
And, as the Luckies tired, in the third, the Ice Demons stepped up the pace enough to win.
However, leading 4-2 and still on the power play going into the third, Kitimat seemed to tire a bit themselves, but were still able to add two more goals in the third for the 6-3 win after Houston came back with a Dinelle hat-trick goal on a power play less than five minutes into the period.
Already hurting on defense, things got worse for Demons when rookie Jordan Goncalves was ejected for a hit from behind in a situation in the second period that seemed to see Goncalves and Skylar Hassell duel
ling for a loose puck when Hassell went down.
Goncalves got a two, a 10 and a game for the hit after opening the scoring for the Ice Demons at the 5.18 mark of the first, with his first CIHL goal.
Demons got out of the first leading 2-1 on a goal added by Ian Coleman two minutes later (Derek Wakita, Blaine Markwart) but with 13 minutes gone, Derek Dinelle got one for the Luckies when Brett Vilness bobbled a puck and his defense was unable to clear. Brandon Ophus assisted.
Derek Dinelle got his second of his three in the game on the power play early in the second, with Jon Aiken serving a tripping penalty, but with just a second left in that penalty and with just 36 seconds gone in the period. Alonzo Slaney and Derek Jelett had assists.
Nick Markowsky then put the Demons back into the lead within two minutes, (Terry Whelan, Jeff Baker) and the home team extended its lead to 4-2 at 11.18, shorthanded, when rookie centre Jacob Pereira made a nice defensive play in the Houston zone, intercepting a clearance and putting the puck right on the stick of Josh Slanina who beat Colton Wardrop in goal for the Luckies.
But again Derek Dinelle showed Houston wanted to stick around getting his third goal to bring his team Luckies back to within a goal.
That was wiped out on a Demons power play by Derek Wakita, unassisted, who popped one past Wardrop to make the score 5-3.
And with just three minutes left and the Luckies visibly tiring, Blaine Markwart carried the puck all the way up ice, round the net and backhanded the sixth goal, with assists to Ian Coleman and Doug Wilson, who played an excellent game when pressed back into service with the Demons reduced availability on defense.
Shots in the game were Kitimat 39, Houston 27 in what was a fairly mild affair physically with Demons taking eight minors, as well as Goncalves’ game penalty in the second, while the Luckies served five minors, with Alonzo Slaney earning a 10 minute misconduct penalty for bugging the referee in the first.