The Kootenay Ice make their 2014-15 WHL home debut Friday at 7 p.m. when they host the Spokane Chiefs at Western Financial Place.
The Ice (1-2-0-0) are coming off a 7-1 thrashing at the hands of the Red Deer Rebels at the ENMAX Centrium Sept. 27.
With a season-opening schedule that sees the Ice play seven of eight games on the road to start the campaign, fans in Cranbrook haven’t seen WHL hockey since April 14 when the Medicine Hat Tigers edged the Ice 2-1 en route to a seven-game, second-round playoff victory.
“There’s a lot more pressure on us having the home-opener,” said Kootenay Ice assistant coach Jay Henderson prior to practice Thursday. “But at the end of the day, it’s nice to play at home. You have the hometown crowd and to get two points is a big thing for us.
“Anytime you can win, it’s nice to put that streak together. As a mental thing, to put some points on the board, that’s going to be huge for us.”
After Friday’s home festivities, the Ice return to their nomad road life with a Saturday night contest in Calgary against the Hitmen (1-2-0-1) before heading east for three games in three nights in Saskatchewan. The Ice visit Regina (2-2-0-0) Oct. 8, Moose Jaw (1-3-0-0) Oct. 9 and Swift Current (2-4-0-0) Oct. 10. With that in mind, the Ice could certainly benefit from getting two points and kick-starting a streak tonight at home.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve played at home,” Henderson said. “It’s nice not having a game every other night, having a week off for some practice time. That’s needed right now, especially early on in the season. That’s been beneficial to us.
“[There has been] a lot of attention to detail. What we talk about lately is the compete factor, but within that compete factor is a lot of detail we have to learn to execute on, so it’s nice to have that practice time.”
The Ice were without centre Luke Philp Saturday in Red Deer. The 18-year-old veteran was out of the lineup with a lower-body injury but is slated to return to the lineup for the home-opener against the Chiefs.
“We need better puck support all over the ice,” Philp said. “We didn’t really have much time in the offensive zone [against Red Deer] and it starts with [puck] support.
“We want to turn things around here. We’ve had a good week of practice so far. We’ve kept things really competitive in practice. We want to bring our competitive levels up every game.”
Following Saturday’s thumping, Kootenay Ice general manager Jeff Chynoweth finalized the team’s roster, re-assigning forward Shane Allan and defenceman Mark O’Shaughnessy while outright releasing import centre Alexander Chirva.
The Moscow native had suited up in all three games to start the season and his release leaves a good chunk of minutes behind.
“[Those minutes will be filled by] guys who are going to compete,” Henderson said. “That’s been our main focus this past week — attention to detail. It’s guys who are executing early on in the game that are going to get that opportunity to get that ice time. The door is open for a lot of guys to earn that spot. It’s not going to be given to anybody.”
On the flip side of the puck, the Chiefs are undefeated to start the 2014-15 campaign. Spokane opened the campaign with a pair of victories over the Tri-City Americans, including a 4-2 triumph on the road Sept. 20 and a narrow 3-2 win Sept. 27 at home.
The win Sept. 27 gave Chiefs head coach Don Nachbaur his 600th-career WHL victory, good enough for fourth in league history, behind Ken Hodge (742 wins), Kamloops Blazers bench boss Don Hay (611) and Lorne Molleken (603).
LWs Dominic Zwerger and Adam Helewka enter the game with three points apiece to lead the Chiefs, while 19-year-old Garret Hughson has sparkled with a .930 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average in the team’s two triumphs.
After tonight’s contest, the Chiefs head home to host the Prince George Cougars Saturday while the Ice venture across the Alberta border to face the Calgary Hitmen.
Notes: D Rinat Valiev is out two to four weeks with a lower-body injury and won’t be available this weekend; G Wyatt Hoflin made the 1,000th save of his WHL career Sept. 27 in Red Deer.