A battle of polar opposites

Conference-leading Raiders in town to challenge the Ice on bear, toque and mitten toss night.

Former Kootenay Ice captain Drew Czerwonka helps collect teddies during the bear

Get ready to let the fur fly on Friday, as the Kootenay Ice host the Prince Albert Raiders on A&W Bear, Toque and Mitten toss night.

When Kootenay scores it’s first goal, fans can launch their teddy bear or winter clothing item out onto the ice, where it will be collected and distributed to local health care facilities and the Salvation Army.

Because the items will be distributed in health care facilities, the Ice encourage fans to bring new and unused teddies or winter clothing.

Joey Leach, who won’t be playing due to an upper body injury, was part of the crew that handed out items collected last year at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital.

“It was very rewarding, being able to go and deliver those bears to people in the hospital because you know some of them can’t make it home for Christmas or don’t have that chance, so it’s nice to give them a smile, even if it’s just for the few minutes that we’re in there talking to them,” Leach said.

With his arm in a sling, he won’t be in the lineup to try and score the important first goal that will bring a hail of flying furry debris.

However, he knows that it’s on the mind of his teammates.

“You always want to get it and everyone wants to be the one to score it ‘cause it’s kind of a special goal to have the bears and the toques and mitts come down after you’re the one to put it in the net,” added Leach.

Former Ice player Elgin Pearce scored the goal that brought everything down last season against his future and current team in the Medicine Hat Tigers.

So what should people bring?

“Teddy bears,” said Leach, with a grin. “They’re a little more fun to hand out for everybody. The toque and mitts are always good for people who don’t have them, too.”

“Everything,” added teammate Erik Benoit. “Everything they can.”

The Ice are coming off losses to the Hitmen in a home and home series, while dropping a decision in Edmonton last weekend.

It will be a battle of Alberta for potentially first place overall in the Eastern Conference as Hitmen and Oil Kings face each other on Friday at Rexall Place, while the Raiders—who reign over everyone else—will attempt to stay on top of the rankings against the Ice.

Kootenay, on the other hand, is trying to claw it’s way out of the bottom of the Conference, with a seven-point gap between it’s closest oppoent in the standings.

Prince Albert is reeling off a 7-4 home loss to the Spokane Chiefs, and has a two-game road trip starting with Kootenay on Friday and Medicine Hat on Saturday.

The Ice have learned a few things about themselves by playing the Oil Kings and the Hitmen to three consecutive losses, according to Benoit.

“We just had a few defensive lapses, there,” said Benoit. “We can work better in our defensive zone, getting pucks out and over our blue line and getting behind their D as well.

“Those two squads there, they have really good defencemen so we just got to make sure we can get the puck behind them and work down low.”

The Raiders have slowed down a bit since starting the season without losing a game in regulation in it’s first eight games, which included a 5-3 win over Kootenay on Oct. 7th.

However, they’re still on fire.

Mark McNeill leads the team with 12 goals and 24 assists, while teammate Mike Winther has 13 goals and 15 assists.

The team looks like it scores by committee with a lot of contributions from guys like Anthony Bardaro, Dakota Conroy and German import Leon Draisaitl.

Goaltender Luke Siemens is stingy in net, with a 2.64 goals against average and a 0.912 save percentage.

Kootenay will hit the road for a day trip into Lethbridge on Saturday to face the Hurricanes, which has just come off a big 6-2 win over the Oil Kings.