Sam Reinhart (left)

Sam Reinhart (left)

Battle royale

Kootenay Ice & Edmonton Oil Kings set for Central Division clash Thursday morning at Rexall Place

Rise and shine, hockey fans.

The Kootenay Ice and Edmonton Oil Kings go to blows Thursday morning at 11:30 a.m. from Rexall Place, with critical points on the line as the WHL’s Central Division race remains a tight one.

“That’ll be a new thing for me,” said Ice forward River Beattie of Thursday’s early start time, following his team’s 4-3 win over the Vancouver Giants Tuesday night. “I’m excited to see how that one works out.”

Thursday’s tilt will represent a homecoming of sorts for the 17-year-old Beattie, a native of Sherwood Park, just outside of Edmonton.

The Ice rookie has turned up the offense of late, tallying two goals in his team’s last two contests, doubling his goal total this season.

Beattie, a sixth-round pick (120th overall) of the Kootenay Ice in the 2012 WHL bantam Draft, joined the club this season after spending the 2013-14 campaign with the Lloydminster Bobcats of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

In 36 outings with the Bobcats last season, the 6-foot, 174-pound winger registered two goals and four points. He has already surpassed those totals through 40 games with the Ice, having registered four goals and six points.

“The Western Hockey League is a huge step,” Beattie said of the transition. “It’s a lot faster and guys are a lot more skilled.”

Over the past few weeks, Ice head coach Ryan McGill has stressed the necessity for his best players to be at their best. Beattie’s contributions from the fourth line have undoubtedly helped.

Zak Zborosky has also answered the call, registering two goals and three assists in the team’s previous four contests.

The Regina native is one of only five Ice to suit up in all 46 of the team’s games thus far in the 2014-15 campaign. A 2015 NHL Entry Draft eligible forward, Zborosky has tacked up 13 goals and 28 points, including the game-winning goal Tuesday night against the Vancouver Giants.

For Zborosky, Thursday’s early game in Edmonton is no different than any other.

“You’ve just to take it how it is every game,” Zborosky said. “Warm up, play soccer with the guys, bike rides, stuff like that. You go into it thinking it’s a normal game and you should be fine.”

Since the return of captain Sam Reinhart, Zborosky has seen significant time on the right side of Kootenay’s all-time franchise scoring leader, with veteran Tim Bozon patrolling the left side. The two veterans have helped Zborosky progress in his second season in Cranbrook.

“It’s helped a lot. [Reinhart] can see anyone on the ice,” Zborosky said. “He makes the game easier. He slows it down at times and he’s easy to play with.”

Zborosky was ranked 97th amongst North American skaters by the NHL Central Scouting Service’s midseason rankings Tuesday morning.

Thursday’s game between the Ice and Oil Kings represents the fifth of six regular-season meetings between the two clubs in 2014-15. The two teams have split the series to this point, with each team winning the games it has hosted.

The Oil Kings opened the season with a 4-2 triumph Sept. 20, before falling in back to back meetings Nov. 7 (4-3) and Dec. 13 (6-3) in Cranbrook. The most recent contest saw the Oil Kings slip past the Ice 3-1 Jan. 3.

“We’ve got to play a full 60 [minutes] and have a hard work ethic,” Zborosky said. “We’ve got to follow the game plan. If we follow the game plan and have a hard work ethic, we should be fine.”

Thursday’s game between the Ice and Oil Kings represents the sixth-annual CN Hockey Hooky — dubbed as a hockey game with built-in educational curriculum for grade-school students.

In purchasing tickets for their classes, teachers are also provided with a comprehensive curriculum that helps incorporate activities and lessons relating back to math, social studies, music, language arts and health.