Ice prepare for high-flying Rockets

Hot Kelowna team in town to kick off five-game road trip, while Ice look to rebound from loss to Lethbridge.

Despite injuries to some key veterans, the Ice will have to make do as they prepare to host the Kelowna Rockets on Tuesday night at Western Financial Place.

Joey Leach (upper body—arm), a 20-year-old defenceman is still a few weeks away from returning to the lineup, while fellow overager Brock Montgomery (upper body) and 19-year-old blueliner Tanner Muth (upper body) will be unavailable for the next two weeks.

The Ice are coming off a 6-1 thumping in Lethbridge at the hands of the Hurricanes after defeating the conference-leading Prince Albert Raiders last Friday.

No one likes making excuses and blaming losses on injuries, but the vacancy means that others have to step up both on the ice and in the dressing room, according to defenceman Mike Simpson.

“Those guys are very good players and hard to replace, but I think everyone here, is here for a reason and it’s got to be a collective effort to step up and fill those holes,” said Simpson.

“It’s a great opportunity for myself and I know it’s a great opportunity for other guys in the room, so I’m looking at it as a positive.”

Leach and Muth are out of the defensive corps, while Montgomery’s absence affects the forward lines.

Rookie Luke Philp agrees with Simpson in that those absences represent an opportunity for younger players to prove themselves on a bigger stage.

“You got to look at it as more of an opportunity rather than get down about it because getting down about it certainly won’t help the team at all so we just got to try and stay positive.”

From a stats perspective, Philp had a good weekend, with an assist on Jaedon Deschenau’s goal against the Raiders, while scoring the lone marker against the Hurricanes on Saturday.

Philp is the team’s rookie scoring leader, with six goals and eight assists so far in the season.

“For me, I think I’m an offensive player, so when I can contribute that to the team, the better that is for me and the better it is for the team, so I’m going to keep trying to put up offence,” said Philp.

The high-flying Rockets have won seven of their last eight games and are embarking on a five-game road trip through the Central Division.

Kelowna’s performance has also helped propel them to fourth place in the Western Conference standings.

Consistency, or lack thereof, has been the main struggle for the Kootenay Ice, which has the ability to take down top-ranked teams as evidenced by wins over Prince Albert, Edmonton and Calgary.

“I think what you could say is that we we’re so focused on taking down the big teams that we almost relax and take a breath sometimes when we’re really in no position to do so,” said Simpson.

“I think it’s got to be a much more concentrated effort towards every team that we’re playing and it’s got to be 100 per cent from everyone, every game.”