Cool reception awaits Ice in the prairies

Kootenay off to Saskatchewan and Alberta for second major road trip of the season.

CHRISTMAS SPIRIT: Kootenay Ice players Austin Vetterl and Erik Benoit man a kettle outside Save-On Foods as part of the Salvation Army’s Christmas Kettle Campaign on Wednesday.

The road beckons and the Kootenay Ice have headed off to Saskatchewan for their second major road trip of the season.

With four games in five nights, it’ll be a tough test for a club that struggling to find consistency in it’s game.

The Christmas break is also fast approaching, and while the players may be anticipating seeing family and friends back in their hometowns, there is still a job to be done, said Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill.

“We’ll have a real good idea on this road trip as to where their heads are at,” McGill said. “It’ll be a real test for their maturity level.”

Forward Jordyn Boyd agreed, noting that the team can’t get distracted by thoughts of tinsel and presents under the tree.

“We still have a couple games left so we just got to keep our heads in it, because these next games are pretty crucial and points that we need to have,” Boyd said. “A lot of teams could be unfocused and have their heads in Christmas, but we just got to stay focused the whole time and come out and play hard every game.”

Blue liners Tanner Muth and Joey Leach are still injured, as is overage forward Brock Montgomery, who is absent in the forward corps.

Those holes in the lineup are being felt inside the dressing room, according to McGill.

“Obviously, we struggle with leadership with them not being in the room, because of the age group with what we have,” said McGill.  “But this is also a time for some of those guys to step up and try to provide some of that by the way they play and the way they get prepared.”

Kootenay has a triple header this weekend against the Prince Albert Raiders, Saskatoon Blades and the Swift Current Broncos. The team wraps up the trip with it’s fourth game in five nights in Red Deer next Tuesday.

Everyone piled on the bus Wednesday night to drive through the darkness, which will put them in Prince Albert on Thursday afternoon and allow them some time to rest up before hitting the ice on Friday evening.

It’s the second major road trip for the team this year, which got swept in  three games during a swing through the U.S. Division at the end of November.

“We’re bonding and that helps when you’re on the ice,” said Boyd. “You’re just more comfortable with each other, having  a little bit more fun with each other, so it just pays off.”

Following Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Kelowna Rockets—a game that slipped out of Kootenay’s fingers in the final 10 minutes—McGill has a very simple message for his players on the trip.

“We need to play for 60 minutes. It’s a very, very difficult league to play in and you have to play for 60 minutes,” McGill said. “Especially on the road, you have to manage the puck properly, you have to make sure you don’t put yourselves in bad situations by turning the puck over in bad areas and we got to make sure we’re disciplined and stay out of the penalty box.”

ICE NOTES: The WHL suspended Evan Morden of the Prince Albert Raiders for four games following a check to the head against Brock Montgomery when the two teams met last Friday. Montgomery sustained an upper body injury on the play, but will join the team on the road trip through Saskatchewan.