Ice forward Matt Alfaro mixes it up during pre-season play in the Crowsnest Pass. After a pair of opening weekend losses to the Calgary Hitmen

Ice forward Matt Alfaro mixes it up during pre-season play in the Crowsnest Pass. After a pair of opening weekend losses to the Calgary Hitmen

Chiefs visit Cranbrook as Ice forget opening weekend

Kootenay Ice hope to execute on power play as U.S. rivals from Spokane invade Western Financial Place

The 2015-16 edition of the Kootenay Ice might be plumb full of youth, but there are still a few veterans around helping guide a relatively green group.

Forward Matt Alfaro is one within the experienced bunch and after the Ice opened the season with a pair of losses against his hometown Calgary Hitmen, the message was pretty plain and pretty simple.

“Pretty much forget about last weekend,” Alfaro said Thursday afternoon prior to practice at Western Financial Place. “We’re starting over with 70 games here to play and we’re going seven games at a time.

“We’re just taking it weekend by weekend and moving on from last weekend.

“We had a lot of guys in their first games and playing in Calgary, it’s an NHL-sized stadium and bigger arena, big crowd. Guys had to get used to that. We got that out of the way. Some guys got some first points out of the way, so that’s good to move on from.”

For the most part, offense was tough to come by, both for Alfaro and the rest of his teammates, as the Hitmen outscored the Ice by a combined margin of 5-2 en route to a pair of wins on opening weekend of the Western Hockey League’s 50th anniversary season.

Alfaro, 19, went without a point against the Hitmen, but after a career-high 33 points last season, has found himself with the opportunity to take on a bigger role this year.

“We lost a lot of guys from last year. It’s a big jump for me coming from not really being a leader last year but having to step up,” Alfaro said. “I’m completely fine with it. I know I can do it and I know the guys look up to me, so I’m happy with that and looking forward to the challenge.”

After sharing his thoughts, Alfaro was pulled into a special teams meeting led by assistant coach Gordon Burnett, while head coach Luke Pierce emerged with his outlook heading into this weekend.

Special teams was a particular focal point last weekend, as the Ice were blanked on 10 power-play opportunities over two games.

On the other side of the special-teams equation, a 3-for-7 showing from the Hitmen power play on Friday didn’t leave the Ice penalty kill looking particularly shiny, but Pierce was pleased with how his group cleaned up Saturday, blanking Calgary on five tries.

“Right now, we’ve done a good job of getting in the zone [on the power play], we’re just complicating things,” Pierce said of the man advantage. “We’ve got to simplify it a little bit. We had some outstanding looks in Calgary and what I thought should’ve been some goals. We missed the net on some, goaltender [Brendan Burke] made some great saves and we just fanned on some pucks, too.

“We’re getting the looks and that’s all you can really ask for. At some point, they’re going to go in.”

With the Spokane Chiefs visiting Western Financial Place Friday night (7 p.m.), the Ice could get ample opportunity to in cash in on the man advantage.

In the team’s lone outing of the year, a 6-4 victory over the Tri-City Americans, the Chiefs found themselves shorthanded on seven occasions, but managed to kill off each one.

“They’re a real aggressive group,” Pierce said of the Chiefs. “They attack pucks and they’re very active in the offensive zone. They’re going to throw a lot of pucks at the net. We’ve got to make sure we’re real strong positionally.

“I think we need to try, as best we can, to spend a lot more time in the offensive zone. I don’t think that strategy is a bad strategy against any opponent, but especially against a team like that.”

Notes: The Ice will once again be without defencemen Tanner Lishchynsky (lower body, day to day) and Tyler King (knee, indefinite). It was originally thought Lishchynsky would be ready to go this weekend, but his recovery hasn’t quite gone as expected, according to Pierce. The Ice will also be without RW Jaedon Descheneau, who remains with the Chicago Wolves — the AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues… For the Chiefs, defenceman Tyson Helgesen (upper body, three to five weeks) is unavailable. The team also released D Jeff Rayman, a Fernie native, Thursday afternoon…

 

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