Icing on the cakewalk

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

CRANBROOK -- Playing from behind against the Kootenay Ice is like trying to win a fight by wearing out your opponent's fists.

It's often ugly, always painful and, ultimately, never effective.

The Calgary Hitmen, shaking off six days of inactivity, put themselves behind the eight ball in the opening minutes last night and never recovered as Kootenay, the stingiest team in the WHL, ground out a 5-0 win.

Hitmen GM/head coach Kelly Kisio was reluctant to blame the loss on his squad's break.

"You could say it was rust in the first period," said Kisio, who juggled his lineup in the third period in search of a spark.

"But at the end of the day, our competition level was not where it was for the past four games.

"We didn't have it tonight."

Cochrane's Jeff Glass kicked out 27 mostly harmless shots to post his franchise-record eighth goose-egg of the season.

Overage winger Brett O'Malley said giving up an early lead to the No. 1 team on the circuit was tough to overcome.

"Things couldn't have gone worse," O'Malley said. "They got a couple of goals on us in the first and they're a hard team to come back on when you're behind.

O'Malley agreed with his coach's assessment and said his club was unable -- or unwilling -- to earn the rough real estate in front of the Kootenay crease.

"We didn't get enough bodies in front of Glass," O'Malley said. "We had lots of shots tonight but nobody was paying the price to go to the front of the net. That's all part of competing.

"You can say we came out a little sluggish but that doesn't change the fact we didn't compete out there.

"I don't think there's any excuses because you can come out slow but still work hard."

The Ice scored twice in each of the first two periods to improve their league-best home record to 26-4-3-1.

Kootenay also set a franchise record for home victories and points as it moved alongside Kelowna on top of the B.C. Division and league standings. The Hitmen (33-22-8-4) take on the Rockets tonight (8 p.m., The Fan 960) in Kelowna.

The Ice, which is a spectacular 31-3-4-2 when scoring the game's first goal, jumped on top early at the Cranbrook Rec Plex when a pair of Kootenay forecheckers held the puck in at the Calgary blueline. Brett Sutter, son of Flames bench boss Darryl, threw it at the net from the corner and it snuck past Justin Pogge at the 2:11 mark.

The Ice padded their lead late in the period when Martin Sagat grabbed a loose puck, stepped into the slot and wristed a shot through traffic past a thoroughly screened Pogge.

Special teams ace Ryan Russell broke the game open in the middle frame. The Caroline product, who has scored more than half of his 31 goals on the powerplay (11) or while shorthanded (5), picked up one of each to give Kootenay a comfortable 4-0 lead through 40 minutes.

Calgary outshot the Ice 20-18 through 40 minutes, although few were of the dangerous variety.

Backup Daniel Spence came in to mop up in the third period and was beaten only once as rookie Casey Lee came out from behind the net and went top shelf.

Sniper Nigel Dawes drew an assist on the play to extend his points streak to 14 games.


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