Kootenay Ice forwards Levi Cable, Jaedon Descheneau and Luke Philp strolled casually into the BCSPCA East Kootenay Branch Thursday afternoon, big grins plastered across their faces.
Sure, the Brandon Wheat Kings are in town for a pair of colossal Eastern Conference games this weekend, but the veteran forwards appreciate and enjoy the opportunity to give back to the community in which they play.
And they certainly weren’t about to turn down a chance to play with furry friends at Cranbrook’s local SPCA branch.
“A lot of the events, I like to do them. They’re actually really fun,” Cable said. “I try to sign up for as many as I can just to get out and about. Other than hockey, I don’t do much around here, so it’s pretty fun.”
Cable, a 20-year-old native of Hudson Bay, Sask., is in his fourth and final season with the Kootenay Ice. Whether he’s holding puppies at the SPCA on a sunny Thursday afternoon or handing out teddy bears to patients at East Kootenay Regional Hospital in December, the small-town Saskatchewan speedster is one of the first Kootenay Ice players to volunteer his time around Cranbrook.
“It’s huge. It’s always nice to get away from the rink and get your mind on something else,” Cable said. “Something like this really helps to get you away from the hockey scene for a little bit.”
After learning a tough lesson against the Kelowna Rockets last weekend, Cable, Descheneau, Philp and the rest of the Ice certainly stood to benefit from some refreshing hours away from hockey.
For Philp, visiting a place like the SPCA provides an opportunity to show that, despite not having grown up in Cranbrook, he appreciates what the people in this community have done for him during his time here.
“It takes you away from the rink, takes you away from the game and you get to meet nice people, nice animals and stuff like that,” Philp said. “Everywhere you go, everyone is friendly, so it’s fun.”
Philp, a 19-year-old native of Canmore, Alta., has been seen reading to children in local schools and serving up pasta at East Side Mario’s amongst other outings over his three full seasons in Cranbrook.
“It’s very important with stuff like this,” Philp said with a smile. “Especially with schools, the little kids look up to us a lot. It’s important for us to show that we appreciate all their support and the support we get around the community from everyone.
“The schools are always fun. The kids are always pretty energetic and pretty excited. This is the first time I’ve been here [at the SPCA] and you can’t really beat cute puppies.”
Descheneau, a 19-year-old Edmonton native, volunteered his time with the Royal Canadian Legion’s annual November wreath campaign earlier this season.
While leading a junior-hockey lifestyle might seem glamorous and glorious to those on the outside, the grind of a 72-game schedule and long, exhausting hours on a bus isn’t exactly the rockstar life it’s made out to be.
For Descheneau, the chance to get away from it all is welcomed.
“It’s big. You’re at the rink so much and you play so many games. In this league, it’s pretty much an NHL schedule with all the travel,” Descheneau said. “When you get away and you get to come hang out with cute dogs and cats, nothing’s better. I’m a huge dog guy. This is my second year doing this and I really enjoy it every time.”
While the three veteran goal-scorers are looked to for their leadership off the ice and in the community, they still have responsibilities on the ice.
After Thursday’s excursion to the BCSPCA East Kootenay Branch, Cable, Descheneau and Philp were headed back to Western Financial Place to continue preparing for back-to-back tilts with the Wheat Kings.
“They’ve got a lot of depth, they’ve got a lot of scoring and they’ve proven to be a really good team in this league this year,” Philp said. “We’ll be ready to play. We almost kind of sat back and some of us were a little intimidated when we played Kelowna last week. We can’t be intimated just because we know they’re a good team and they have lots of fire power. We can’t sit back and let them dictate the play because we’ll be playing catch-up the rest of the game. We’ve got to go out there and dictate the play.”
The Rockets took full control last Saturday, building a 4-0 lead in a game in which the Ice were hoping to measure up as one of the league’s top teams. This time around, the Ice aim to prove last weekend was the outlier and they truly do belong in the conversation with the likes of the Kelowna Rockets and Brandon Wheat Kings.
“It’s a little bit easier to prepare for both [nights]. You’re not looking at two different teams over the weekend, so you can just focus on the one team and what they do and their tendencies,” Cable said. “In that way, it’s a little easier. But I like the games — they get a little more intense because they’re two back-to-back [against the same opponent].
“We’re going to have to come out and play our game, see their tendencies and focus on them. But the main part is to focus on us, bring what we’ve got and compete hard for 120 minutes this weekend.”
The Wheat Kings are in the midst of a five-game road trip, having already knocked off the Moose Jaw Warriors and Medicine Hat Tigers. Outside of a 3-2 overtime loss to the Swift Current Broncos (Jan. 27), the Wheat Kings have won nine of their previous 10 outings.
“[Kelowna] was probably the best junior team I’ve played against in my WHL career,” Descheneau said. “It just tells us how good you have to be to win in this league.
“Brandon’s right up there with them. We know what we have to expect against Brandon this weekend.”
The Wheat Kings and Ice do battle on back-to-back nights Friday and Saturday at Western Financial Place.
Notes: The Kootenay Ice will be without D Tanner Faith (shoulder, four to six months) and possibly F Jon Martin (illness, day to day)… The Brandon Wheat Kings will be without D Kale Clague (upper body, day to day), F Jayce Hawryluk (upper body, week to week), G Alex Moodie (upper body, week to week) and F John Quenneville (upper body, week to week)…