By Tyler Lowey, Times Reporter
The Strathmore Wheatland Kings and the Medicine Hat Cubs needed a shootout Jan. 28 in a battle for the basement.
The Kings entered the weekend finale having lost nine of their last 10 and fresh off one of their worst performances of the season the night prior.
But back home at the Strathmore Family Centre, the Kings looked to be in a spirited mood, as they duelled the Cubs whose recent play saw them enter tied with the Kings for fifth place in the Heritage Junior Hockey League Southern Division.
“Tonight was a much better game for us,” said Kings Head Coach Shadoe Stoodley.
“We worked a lot harder and showed a lot more effort. There was a lack of scoring, but at least we showed up with an effort tonight.”
The Kings were able to skate into the first intermission by staving off a five-minute major issued to Ryan Grasdahl and two minutes of a Cubs’ five-on-three power play when Hayden Vander Ploeg sat for roughing.
“It just comes down to effort on the penalty kill. When you play harder, getting in the proper position becomes easier and guys are able to stay in the play easier,” said Stoodley.
In the second period, Jake Johnston snapped a head-high shot from the blue line on Cubs netminder Josh Breznik. The Coaldale product muffed an attempt to catch it, as the puck fell out of his mitt and into the net for Johnston’s second goal on the season at the 2:33 mark.
Four minutes later, the Kings (11-18-3) had a short-handed chance, when Austin Holmes sent a pass over to Chayse Hnatowich on a rush in the slot, but it was just past the rookie’s reach. Going the other way, Riley Fiorkowski gained the Kings’ zone with ease and rifled one past backup keeper Calum Humble.
Holmes had to be shaking his head after the Kings dropped a close decision in a shootout, as he should have ended up with five or six points the way he was setting up his teammates in tight.
Late in the third, Holmes circled the net and sent a pass out front. He received a lucky bounce off a Cubs’ skate, with the pass landing on the tape of Hnatowich, but was stopped in tight.
Holmes also set up Vander Ploeg at the buzzer but was turned away by one of Breznik’s 55 saves.
Not to be outdone was Humble, who needed to be razor sharp all game, as the Kings were short-handed nine times.
He was a big reason the Kings secured the loser point. In the third, Kody Hammond turned the puck over at the blue line, which sent Josh Schafer in on a breakaway. Humble stood tall, stayed with the shooter and made the kick save.
Not too much time had passed when Cody Riehl was off on a two-on-one. Kings rookie blue liner Jaden Dorion did a great job to take away the pass, leaving Humble to key in on Riehl and deny him with the blocker.
“Calum was unreal tonight and made a lot of big saves,” said Stoodley. “He’s a big goalie and if he keeps giving us a chance to win, we have to put more pucks in the net on the other end to help him out a bit more.”
Since joining the Kings one month ago, Humble is still searching for his first win, despite turning in a 47- and 44-save performance in his last two starts.
Another area where he hasn’t picked up a win in his career is in the shootout.
“I treat the shootout just like I treat overtime,” said Humble. “You can’t treat it like something special or extra, you just have to focus on making saves when you have to and hopefully you come out on the other side.”
After Holmes lost the handle in tight, Hnatowich, Vander Ploeg and Keenan Ogle couldn’t solve Breznik. Schafer was able to win it for the Cubs (12-18-2) in the fourth round when his shot from the slot made it past Humble.
The same effort that helped gather one point for the Kings was nowhere to be found the night before at the Spray Lakes Family Sports Centre, when the Kings fell 9-3 to the Cochrane Generals.
“We had zero effort. Nobody tried, and we got walked all over,” said Stoodley.
The Generals (20-11-1) bagged four goals in the opening and closing frames, as Indiana Kelly was on the hook for all nine goals on 46 shots.
Making their way onto the score sheet were Brad Tingey and Vander Ploeg. Grady White scored at the 18:25 mark of the third for his first goal as a King.
The Kings now enter the final month of the season with only four games remaining. They kick off the final stretch in Medicine Hat at the Kinplex Arena Feb. 3 against the Cubs. The Kings next home game goes Feb. 9 when they host the Generals at the Family Centre.