Ice coach feels the worst is over

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:18 PM ET

Kris Knoblauch was convinced the worst was behind him and after Tuesday night's 5-4 overtime victory over Saint John, he may be right.

The rookie head coach of the Kootenay Ice made that determination off his team's morning skate.

For really the first time since the team arrived in Mississauga, Knoblauch felt the team was having fun again.

He felt that bode well for his club heading into Tuesday's elimination game with the high-flying QMJHL champion Saint John Sea Dogs.

"I think when you start the tournament there is so much nerves," Knoblauch said. "No one knows what to expect. Now we have lost our first two games, we know what to expect and there's really nothing to lose. The guys, even though we're down to an elimination game, are less nervous. We can just go out and play."

Already assured of a berth in Sunday's Memorial Cup final, the Sea Dogs didn't exactly roll over for the Ice although the 12 shots through two periods, even producing a 2-2 tie as it did, were a little suspicious.

Kootenay's problem has been generating any kind of scoring. They came into the game with just one goal to show for the first two games.

Knoblauch blamed that on the fact that his big scoring lines from the WHL playoffs had lost the chemistry that had made them special.

"I just think that right now some of the chemistry of our lines that were very dangerous for us in the playoffs is not there right now," Knoblauch said. "Maybe it's one strong shift or a big hit or a lucky goal that can turn that around. I think that is the biggest thing (affecting us)."

That got turned around in Game 3 Wednesday as the Ice scored four times in regulation time and appeared headed for a win over the previously unbeaten Sea Dogs.

That was until Zack Phillips stripped Cody Eagin, fired a prayer at the Kootenay net with 14.7 seconds remaining and had it answered when it struck teammate Tomas Jurco in the head and ricocheted into the net to force overtime.

But Matt Fraser, with his second goal of the game 3:55 into overtime sealed it for the Ice, earning them a spot in Thursday's tiebreaker game.

Knoblauch was asked what he will take from his first experience as a head coach at the Memorial Cup.

"You need to be playing your best hockey," he said. "It's not a seven-game series. There's very little room for error. It's so important to get your team to this tournament in the right frame of mind."

The Ice didn't start that way, but they did manage to find it soon enough to stay in the hunt when the chips were down.

MAY AS WELL TAKE ADVANTAGE

Gerrard Gallant didn't even make an attempt to disguise last night's game as one he was overly concerned about winning. His priority, as it should be, was the health of his team heading into the final. So it wasn't surprising to see everyone he scratched other than his starting goaltender had some sort of ailment, lingering or otherwise.

The Sea Dogs had made the decision that should they be 2-0 heading into the third game (as they were) they would rest starting goaltender Jacob DeSerres and go with Mathieu Corbeil in the net. Joining DeSerres as spectators for the game were defenceman Simon Despres and assistant captain Michael Kirkpatrick as well as forward Danick Gauthier.

Gallant mentioned Despres as one of those most seriously affected by the flu bug that has been ravaging his team. Kirkpatrick has been bothered by shoulder problems although he did play in both of the first two games. Gauthier was the unfortunate Sea Dog that wound up being hit through an open door in Monday's game and was very slow to get up.

Having pointed all that out, it should also be noted that it might actually have been in the Sea Dogs interest that Kootenay finish the round robin with at least a win as it had the chance of forcing whatever opponent comes out of the round robin to play at least one extra game.

Point Shots: Watching his first game of the tournament gave Sea Dogs goalkeeper DeSerres a chance to see an old friend in action. DeSerres and Kootenay forward Kevin King were friends growing up in Calgary. They even played on the same team a couple of seasons. DeSerres said the two were able to catch up a little at the tournament banquet and have exchanged a few texts but that has been about it. ... The five goals by the Ice give them six for the tournament, well clear of the mark for the lowest output since the tournament went to a three-game round robin format. The 1996 Guelph Storm hold onto that dubious mark having scored just twice in their three games that year. The Ice even managed to go two better than the 2000 Memorial Cup Kootenay team which scored just four goals in its three games.

mike.ganter@sunmedia.ca


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