It was a virtual must-win for both competing teams, but the pace of the game made it feel to the fans of an almost-but-not-quite full Hershey Centre that the Kootenay Ice and the Mississauga-St. Michael’s Majors were playing not to lose.
Mississauga forward Rob Flick victimized Ice defenseman Hayden Rintoul a couple of times, once midway through the third period with some speed and fancy stickhandling, to give the Majors a 2-1 lead, which they carried right through to the end.
“It was a great play there from Devante [Smith-Pelley] there,” said Flick. “I kept my feet moving, skated around the guy [Rintoul] and just tried to throw it on net.” His shot kept to the ice and beat Kootenay goalie Nathan Lieuwen low blocker.
The game could best be described as lunchbucket, with slow, limited 5-on-5 play, a gross number of stick and obstruction infractions and remiss of offensive stars, save Flick for Mississauga and the brilliant Cody Eakin for Kootenay, who waltzed through the Majors trap all night like a Victorian-era harlequin on the ballroom floor, yet failed to beat goaltender JP Anderson at even strength.
“I thought Cody was excellent tonight,” said Majors coach Dave Cameron through a deadpan. “He was a force every time he was on. What makes Cody special and I think [Kootenay coach Knoblauch] Kris would agree is not only his skill but his compete level.”
Eakin had the lone goal for the Ice on the powerplay with a laser of a wrist shot and was a large factor in Kootenay’s perfect penalty-kill. The Washington Capitals prospect drew gasps with his play but it wasn’t enough for the Ice, who dropped to 0-2.
“I had a lot of shots and a lot of chances,” Eakin said. “That’s just the way it is. You don’t score every shot you take.”
Unfortunately for the Team Canadian World Junior team veteran, his team couldn’t pull through. Despite his coach Knoblauch calling this one “well played by both teams” it was clearly dragged down by the ice conditions in a building that isn’t used to seeing more than a thousand fans a night.
Mississauga’s first goal came from Russian forward Maxim Kitsyn, who found a loose puck after Flick cut to the net and a collision with Rintoul knocked the puck loose. Kitsyn grabbed it and poked it past Lieuwen, who played well despite the loss for a second straight night and made 30 saves off of 32 shots. His opposite Anderson made 31 saves off of 32.
1: Cody Eakin, KTY
2: Rob Flick, MISS
3: JP Anderson, MISS