The Kootenay Ice can throw several offensive players at rivals, but one of them dedicated Saturday’s 5-0 win over the Spokane Chiefs to the guy in net.
“We know (the Chiefs) play hard every night, so I think (goaltender Wyatt Hoflin) was the big difference tonight,” said center Luke Philp, who scored twice to become the fourth Ice player with 25 goals this Western Hockey League season.
“(Hoflin) played really well and he had big saves at key times,” Philp added. “So I think that was probably the main difference tonight.”
Hoflin made 29 saves for his third shutout of the season but his first since Nov. 22.
The Chiefs have been shut out six times this season, all since Jan. 17.
“They’re a good team and they exploited our inability to be stronger,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “We weren’t strong on pucks. We turned over 58 pucks. We iced the puck numerous times. They’re a very, very skilled team. We gave up some easy goals in the first two periods that made it a tough hill to climb.”
Jaedon Descheneau also scored twice for the Ice, giving him 27 goals on the season. Tim Bozon (26) and Levi Cable (25) have also hit the 25-goal mark for Kootenay, and the team’s best player, Sam Reinhart, has 15 goals in 35 games.
The Chiefs (27-27-3-1, 58 points) managed to stay in fourth place in the U.S. Division because Tri-City (57 points) dropped a 7-2 home contest against Calgary.
Kootenay improved to 31-27-1-1, 64 points, and won the season series from Spokane 4-1.
The other four games were decided by one goal.
“It was working well today,” Philp said. “The puck seemed to have a little ‘puck luck’ today that you don’t always get. But I think we were working and when you’re work, the bounces go your way a little more.”
The first good bounce went to Jon Martin, whose rebound goal at 8:41 of the first period started the scoring. The Chiefs had dominated early, outshooting Kootenay 6-0 through the first 3:40, but Martin’s goal seemed to sink Spokane.
“The first shift we won,” Nachbaur said. “After that, I didn’t see it. Three guys in our lineup are coming off long-term injuries. You can’t expect them to be good, but the other guys who have been playing all along have to be better.”
Philp scored at 8:09 of the second, on a shot in which Chiefs goalie Tyson Verhelst was screened, and assisted on Descheneau’s goal 8-plus minutes later. Philp shot top-shelf on the Ice’s first power play for a 4-0 lead with 1:29 left in the game, and the Chiefs’ defense wilted while allowing another Descheneau goal with 30 seconds left.
The Chiefs will play host to U.S. Division-leading Everett on Wednesday. The Silvertips, the first team in the division to clinch a playoff berth, are 4-2 against the Chiefs this season.
If the WHL season ended today, Spokane and Everett would be matched up in a first-round playoff.
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