It may have been military appreciation day for the Edmonton Oil Kings on Sunday, but the team was desperately short of ammunition.
The Oil Kings managed just 12 shots through the first two periods and were unable to make up a deficit in the third, falling 2-1 to the Kootenay Ice at Rexall Place.
The loss snapped a three-game win streak for the Oil Kings, who will face the Tigers in Medicine Hat on Tuesday.
“We were playing a pretty good hockey club,” said Edmonton head coach Derek Laxdal. “They’re a big, strong team that plays well together that are a little more experienced then we are.
“They’re a really defensive hockey club, they have big, strong defencemen and they usually keep teams below 20 shots per game.
“We had to find ways to get pucks to the net and get good body position to win those battles in front of the net.”
Brayden McNabb and Matt Fraser scored for the Ice in the second period, while Michael St. Croix countered late in the third period for the Oil Kings.
“I didn’t think there were very many chances in the first period because both teams were playing very responsibly defensively,” said Ice head coach Kris Knoblauch.
“I thought things opened up a little bit in the second period. But Edmonton has given us trouble in three of the four games we’ve played them this year. We have beaten them, but they have played hard against us.”
The Ice went into the game second in the WHL’s Eastern Conference standings, six points behind the front running Saskatoon Blades.
The Oil Kings, meanwhile, were sixth in the conference, eight points clear of the Prince Albert Raiders, who are chasing the final playoff spot.
“That’s one thing we talked about,” said Laxdal. “Until we can compete at this level against these teams above us, we’re going to be a middle of the pack team.
“It comes down to intensity, it comes down to the will to battle, it comes down to the will to get to the pucks first.
“I didn’t mind our game, but we just didn’t take that next step to compete against a team that’s ahead of us in the standings.”
The Ice opened the scoring on the power play early in the second period when McNabb’s floater from the point made its way through a sea of legs and past Oil Kings goaltender Jon Groenheyde.
The visitors increased their lead before the end of the period as Groenheyde and defenceman Adrian Van de Mosselaer got their signals crossed behind the net, allowing Kootenay centre Max Reinhart to send the puck out to Fraser in front.
“We made two mistakes on their first powerplay goal,” said Laxdal. “We have a set penalty kill and one guy went outside the boundaries a little bit and they put the puck at the net and scored.
“On the second goal, that’s a mistake you make in the first month of the season, not in January.”
In the third period, the Oil Kings were able to get more pucks to the net, but were held at bay by goaltneder Nathan Lieuwen, who finished the contest with 23 saves.
St. Croix was eventually able to beat the Ice goaltender with 39.5 seconds left when his centring pass bounced off McNabb and into the net.
“They played a real tight game and they didn’t give us much space,” St. Croix said.
“I think that was the best game we’ve played against them this year, but we weren’t able to get the two points and that’s what this game is all about.”