Kootenay Ice winger Barrett Sheen led the team with three goals at the 2017 Red Lion tournament in Kennewick, Washington. (Brad McLeod Photo)

Kootenay Ice win one of three at preseason Tri-City tournament

Team steadily improves in first action of the year, beat Thunderbirds 5-3 before returning home

The Kootenay Ice received a major wakeup call in their first preseason game ahead of the 2017-18 season.

Playing at the annual Red Lion tournament in Kennewick, Washington on Thursday night, the Ice were levelled 7-0 by the hometown Tri-City Americans.

Although the game was nothing more than an exhibition match, the Ice improved their play over the next two days and appear to be a group on the rise.

In Friday afternoon’s game against the Portland Winterhawks, the Ice were on the wrong end of an 8-3 scoreline but outshot their competition and showed significant flashes of offensive and defensive control.

On Saturday, the Ice once again put significant pucks to the net and came out with a 5-3 win over the reigning WHL champion Seattle Thunderbirds, in a come-from-behind victory.

“I thought we were much better than [in] our previous two games,” associate coach John Klemm said after the game in a video posted on the team’s social media. “We played within our structure [and] we had guys that stuck up for each other… it was overall, a great team effort.”

Veteran goalie Mario Petit backstopped Kootenay in their first and third games, making a total of 46 saves on 56 shots against and getting credit for the team’s win. 16-year-old Jesse Makaj faced 29 Portland shots on his night and made 21 saves.

With star offensive talents Vince Loschiavo, Brett Davis and Cale Fleury all absent from the squad due to NHL prospect tournaments, other team veterans made the biggest impact in the goal-scoring department.

Winger Barrett Sheen had three goals in two games, including the game winner on Saturday afternoon, a rocket blasted from just past the faceoff circle with ten minutes left in the contest.

Returning centremen Colton Kroeker and Noah Philp, meanwhile, put up three points each (a goal and two assists) and third-year winger Max Patterson had two goals.

Keenan Taphorn, a second-year winger, had two assists and rookies Nolan Orzeck and Connor McClennon had two assists as well.

McClennon was the Ice’s first round selection, and second overall pick at the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft. He was one of three 15-year-olds to make their WHL preseason debut for Kootenay, along with defenceman Anson McMaster and fellow forward James Form.

After the first game, head coach James Patrick said that watching some of the team’s young players was a major highlight.

“All-in-all I thought there were some really good efforts from some of [our] young guys,” he said. “[There’s] a lot of work [in terms of] getting on the right side of the puck, tracking the puck [and] getting on the right side of the ice … you never know where you’re at until you start playing some of these games [and now] I have a feeling of our team and the areas we have to improve on.

Over the course of the weekend, Kootenay struggled to capitalize on their power play chances. They went zero for ten in their first two games, before finally getting a single man advantage goal on four chances against the Thunderbirds.

On the penalty kill, the Ice were scored on three times out of 13 chances from their opposition.

The team’s shot totals, however, were quite impressive. Kootenay put up over 30 shots in every game, including 41 against the Winterhawks on Friday.

In the last game against the Thunderbirds, emotions became heated and there were several fights and game misconducts. For Kootenay, Keenan Taphorn and defenceman Jordan Chudley were both kicked out after separate confrontations.

“These kids play with a lot of emotion and sometimes it gets the best of them [but] it makes for an exciting hockey game,” Klemm said of the afternoon’s chippy play. “We want to teach these guys how to keep their emotions in [check] and use that to our advantage. Overall [though] I thought our discipline was pretty good.”

With the win, the team has already improved upon their 2016 preseason, where they lost all six games. The Ice will return to Kennewick on Tuesday night for a rematch against the Americans, before finishing their preseason over the weekend in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta.

The team currently has a roster of 35 players, including several who are too young to play full-time this season, and will have to eventually pare down the lineup to 23 players for the regular season.