The Winnipeg Ice have drawn first blood in a new Manitoba rivalry in the Western Hockey League.
The visitors scored twice in the second period and added a dagger early in the final frame as they beat the Brandon Wheat Kings 3-2 in their home opener at Westoba Place on Friday in front of a crowd of 4,959.
The East Division matchup was the first of 10 between the clubs this season. They meet tonight in Winnipeg at Wayne Fleming Arena for the Ice’s home opener.
Connor McClennon, Isaac Johnson and Michal Teply scored for Winnipeg (1-0-0-0), with Vinny Iorio and Zach Wytinck replying for Brandon (0-1-0-0).
Brandon head coach Dave Lowry said his team lacked urgency until late in the game.
"We were a step behind," Lowry said. "I thought for our group, we talk about how we want to play, we want to play fast, we want pucks to be moved and we want guys jumping into holes, and then the expectation is that when they jump into holes, the puck will be delivered. Tonight it didn’t get delivered."
The hosts certainly dodged one bullet.
Almost three years ago to the day, on Sept. 24, 2016, the home opener between the Wheat Kings and the Moose Jaw Warriors was postponed 14 minutes 23 seconds into the second period due to heavy fog created by high humidity, warm temperatures and thunderstorms throughout the day.
Fast forward three years, and with nearly identical conditions, fog got worse and worse on the ice, although not as bad as in 2016 when former Wheat Kings goalie Jordan Papirny watched the screen on the scoreboard when the puck crossed centre ice to locate the puck.
On Friday, the ice received several dry floods to help disperse the fog, and players from both teams took to the ice for a light skate at one point. The decision to dry flood the ice was made by a league official in concert with the two general managers.
Wheat Kings forward Ridly Greig started the game with a bang just 21 seconds into the action when his thunderous check that sent Chase Hartje’s helmet into the air and the former Wheat King flying into the end boards. Greig was assessed a checking to the head major and a game misconduct.
The teams traded penalties, with Brandon on a rare four-on-three man advantage, but the Wheat Kings soon found themselves on a 90-second five-on-three penalty kill.
Neither team could capitalize.
After an evenly played 20 minutes, McClennon finally opened the scoring six minutes into the middle frame when he tipped a shot from the blue line by Ice rookie Carson Lambos.
The Ice controlled long stretches of the second period — outshooting their hosts 20-7 — and took a two-goal bulge when Johnson was left alone in the slot with three minutes remaining. He made no mistake in firing the puck past helpless Brandon starting goalie Jiri Patera.
Winnipeg starter Dean McNabb flashed the leather a couple of times in the early going, and was helped by the iron behind him, with Cole Reinhardt hitting the post twice and Winnipegger Jonny Hooker also ringing it.
The Ice put the game away 33 seconds into the final frame. Patera was unable to locate the puck after making a save, and as he searched for it during a wild goal-mouth scramble, Teply knocked it into the net.
Iorio finally got Brandon on the board midway through the third period when his wrister from the point found its way through traffic and by McNabb.
"It was good," Iorio said.
"I saw the lane open up and (Luka) Burzan made a nice pass up top to me and I shot it, and thankfully I picked the right spot."
Wytinck brought the hosts back within a goal with four minutes remaining with a shot from the high slot on a Brandon rush but that was as close as they would get.
"It was not pretty," Iorio said. "We simply got outworked. I know personally and our whole team knows that we have a lot more and we’re going to give it tomorrow. I guarantee that."
Patera made 42 saves for the Wheat Kings, with McNabb stopping 24 shots for the Ice.
Brandon went 0-for-2 on the power play, with Winnipeg scoreless in five chances.
Winnipeg head coach James Patrick said he liked his team’s game until the final stretch.
"We just did a lot of good things and I thought we were clean coming out of our zone," Patrick said.
"It was real simple. But for our team you have to learn how to hold a lead. There are a lot of emotions going on."
ICINGS: Brandon’s scratches were D Jack Zayat, F Riley Ginnell, F Bode Hagan and G Connor Ungar. … Winnipeg’s scratches included G Will Makaj, G Will Gurski, D Ben Zloty, D Anson McMaster, F Logan Danis, F James Form, F Peyton Krebs, F Conor Geekie and D Zachary Patrick. … Last year’s home opener drew 4,902 fans. … Mitch Love of the Saskatoon Blades will serve as head coach for Team WHL at the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series. He will be joined by assistant coaches Marc Habscheid of the Prince Albert Raiders and Dave Struch of the Regina Pats. Team WHL hosts Team Russia Nov. 13 in Saskatoon and Nov. 14 in Prince Albert.
Updated on Friday, September 20, 2019 at 11:14 PM CDT: Adds photo