MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Cody Eakin would not say exactly what Kootenay Ice head coach Kris Knoblauch told the team during the first intermission after the Western Hockey League champions fell behind 2-0 to the Owen Sound Attack in Thursday night's Memorial Cup tiebreaker.
"It was a little bit of a kick in the butt," Eakin said, but his smirk suggested there were far more expletives.
Knoblauch told his team Owen Sound was missing two top forwards — Joey Hishon and Garrett Wilson with suspected concussions — and had surprisingly started Scott Stajcer in net ahead of Jordan Binnington, and the Ontario Hockey League champions were still playing better than the Ice.
And the coach knew his team thought the game would be easier than its 5-0 loss to the Attack last Saturday.
"He said, 'If you want it it's there for the taking,' " Eakin said.
So the Ice came out for the second period and took it. Erik Benoit, Joe Antilla and Matt Fraser scored during a four-minute Kootenay goal rush in the second period to rally the Ice from a 2-0 deficit and propel them to a 7-3 win and a place in Friday's semifinal against the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors.
"I think we're finding our game," Knoblauch said.
Certainly, Thursday was the first time Kootenay displayed the kind of hard forechecking, high-scoring play that led it to the WHL championship but had been curiously absent in losses to the Attack and the Majors.
The Attack beat a sluggish Kootenay on Saturday with a flurry of quick passes and it continued to overwhelm the Ice in the first period of Thursday night's game. Owen Sound forwards Mike Halmo, Andrew Shaw and Cameron Brace rushed toward Kootenay's net with seven minutes gone, and with Ice goalkeeper Nathan Lieuwen teetering on the edge of his crease, Halmo passed to Brace who tapped the puck into an open net. Jesse Maidens scored the Attack's second with a little more than a minute left in the first.
But then came Knoblauch's butt-kicking.
Benoit scored the first goal after he kicked a rebound onto his stick and past Stajcer at 7:48. Then on the penalty kill 13 seconds later, Cody Eakin won a face off in Kootenay's zone and burst behind the Attack before setting up Antilla for the tying goal on a two-on-one. Fraser completed the sudden second-period comeback with a quick wrist shot on the power play at 11:14.
"We're still a desperate team," Fraser said about Kootenay's aggressive forecheck that forced turnovers.
And the goals did not stop coming. Fraser, Eakin and Max Reinhart all scored inside a two-minute span early in the third period.
Owen Sound head coach Mark Reeds said he switched his goalies to get "a response" out of his team after the Attack lost to the Saint John Sea Dogs and Mississauga despite great saves from Binnington. Stajcer started only 14 games in the regular season but played 13 games in the post-season. He was part of Reeds' three-goalie rotation throughout the playoffs but last played two weeks ago in Game 5 of the OHL final.
"It is huge loss and pretty devastating for me," said Stajcer.
Binnington came in after Kootenay's sixth goal and Halmo gave the Attack a sliver of hope with a power-play goal at 5:37.
But after that Lieuwen, the WHL playoff MVP, took centre stage and made a number of superb stops.
Shaw said after the first period it was Owen Sound who became complacent.
"We might have been thinking the game was ours but we should have been thinking that they're a hard working team," Shaw said.
Lieuwen said Kootenay's turnaround was about more than hard work — it was about belief
"To have that belief in the guy beside you it's contagious," Lieuwen said. "If I'm playing my game then maybe the guy in front of me will play a little bit better and it moves on and on."
How far does it move?
"It gives us a lot of life," Lieuwen said with a smile.
© Copyright (c) National Post