A third period comeback wasn't enough as the Swift Current Broncos fell 5-3 to Kootenay in their final visit to Cranbrook.
The Ice will be moving to Winnipeg after over 20 seasons in the East Kootenay region of British Columbia.
Goals by Carter Chorney and Eric Houk pulled the Broncos from down 4-1 back to within a goal, but that is as close as they could get in the battle of the bottom two teams in the WHL Eastern Conference standings.
"I thought we showed a lot of character in the third," said Broncos assistant coach Scott Dutertre. "We came back, we battled, we had a little bit of adversity in the first couple, I found that maybe we were playing not perimeter but we were reaching instead of engaging in some situations, and I thought we had a little more jump to our game in the third."
The Broncos outshot Kootenay 13-11 in the third period after getting outshot 37-14 through to that point. It was a change in mentality after a lot of missed nets in the first two periods.
"That's where we'd be reaching our turning away from checks, as supposed to engaging," Dutertre said. "It's more just getting into the lanes and engaging and trying to get sticks on pucks, and we didn't do that early on, so (Poulter) had to make some saves for us. Then in the third we finally started getting into those, not that we weren't getting into shooting lanes but instead of reaching we were actually moving our feet a little bit better. I thought our legs got better by the third and then we started managing the puck a little bit better and got a couple pucks on net where there was some rebounds opportunities and all of a sudden the belief system in our team changed."
A miscue behind the Swift Current net got Kootenay started as Isaac Poulter turned it over and Brandon Machado was able to bank the puck off his skate and just over the Broncos goal line for a 1-0 Ice lead after 1.
Swift Current tied the game early in the second period as Christian Riemer came out of the penalty box with the puck on his stick for a 2 on 1. He drew the Kootenay defender to him and set up Matthew Culling for his 10th goal of the season.
Riemer seems to enjoy Cranbrook as he also scored his first career goal at Western Financial Place during the team's previous visit. Culling now has goals in back-to-back games after long slump.
"It's kind of funny, this morning we were working on some of that stuff (quick releases)," Dutertre noted. "To play at that next level, you have to be able to get pucks off, and you have to be deceptive when your getting pucks off and you don't have time to stick handle. Matty Culling and I spent about 15 minutes this morning working on it, and that is a testament to our kids. We don't get the outcome and the results right now, but we have some good kids that put the time in, and you have those few months in the offseason to get a little bit stronger, and you get some time to work on that stuff. I like our work ethic; we just have to get through those growing pains."
Kootenay pulled back ahead a few minutes later as Jaeger White stopped up at the top right circle in the Swift Current zone and ripped his 26th of the season through traffic for a 2-1 Ice lead. They added some insurance late in the period when Brad Ginnell converted the rebound of a Valtteri Kakkonen point shot.
Connor McLennon added to the Kootenay lead early in the third period and it looked like the game was out of reach.
That's when the Broncos seemed simplify their game and pick up their energy. Chorney scored after going to the net hard for the rebound of a Tyler Smithies shot and Houk's goal game after a drive to the net by Tyler Lees.
"It's meat and potatoes," Dutertre said. "Like for us we are not a fancy team and we live with a generation of kids here that the other day I was talking to them if they watch whole games, and they don't. They watch all the replays, well they don't show all the gritty, just getting pucks on net goals. Instead they see all the fancy stuff, and that's what we see in the potential in our kids if they can just utilize that every night. If we get pucks to the net, we're good at finding secondary pucks, it's always that stumbling block, and we always have to come back to it all the time, and we revisit it again in the third, and we made it a hockey game."
Ben King had an assist in his first game back in the lineup for the Broncos since January 5th. He seemed to be right back in the groove despite almost two months away.
"Actually on my way up here, I saw him in the hallway, and I told him I thought he had a heck of a game tonight," Dutertre said. "I thought he did a fantastic job of managing the puck. That kid had put in a lot of work while he was injured. He kept his conditioning up. Your timing mentally, just for him to get caught up, but physically and everything I think he might actually be in as good as shape or better than when he got injured. The kid put in a lot of work, and I thought he did a fantastic job. He was one of our better guys at managing pucks tonight I thought."
It was also a good bounce-back game for Polter as he stopped 43 of the 47 shots he faced. He returned to his usual form after the whole team struggled in their three previous games.
"Poults did a good job of bouncing back," Dutertre added. "For being a young kid in the league and especially as a goaltender at any level, confidence is key, and for him, he just has to realize, and (Head Coach Dean Brockman) had the conversation with him, we're sticking with you. We believe in you. It's just like any of our forwards that have a bad game, unfortunately you are under the microscope a bit more because you are the last line of defence, but I thought he did a really good job and showed his composure tonight and I thought he bounced back and again there are a couple of those that he couldn't see."
Swift Current was missing Owen Blocker and Alex Moar to injury. Billy Sowa also sat the game out.
Next action for the Broncos is Saturday night in Medicine Hat against a Tigers team battling for their playoff lives. Medicine Hat has lost seven games in a row and sit only a point ahead aof Brandon for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Broncos are in the midst of a seven game stretch away from home. They will be in Prince Albert on Tuesday and Friday.