With eight games remaining in the regular season, the Kootenay Ice have sights set on the third seed in the WHL’s Central Division. Friday night, the Ice get a crack at closing the gap as the current holders of that spot — the Red Deer Rebels — visit Western Financial Place.
“We’re always looking to improve,” said Kootenay Ice forward Luke Philp Thursday afternoon prior to practice. “Seven points is a tough gap to close, but if we can make games count against them — big four-point games against them — that would make it a little easier to close that gap. We’ll be looking to do that.”
Both the Ice and Rebels have eight games remaining on their regular-season schedules, two of which come against one another. At 33-21-4-6 (76 points) Brent Sutter’s crew holds a seven-point edge on the Ice (33-28-1-2, 69 points).
Through five games in their seven-game season series, the Rebels hold the edge with a 3-2-0-0 mark. For the Ice, their two victories over the Rebels came on the road Sept. 19 and Jan. 2.
After a four-game swing through the WHL’s East Division, Ice head coach Ryan McGill expressed a desire for more consistency from his group as the post-season looms near.
“We played well that last road trip, but come playoffs you can’t just play one game and lose the next,” Philp said. “Before you know it you’re going to be out. I think our work ethic is the main thing. If our team comes to compete, we’re pretty good. We can beat anybody.”
While the playoff race is first and foremost on the minds of everyone in the Kootenay Ice dressing room, a lighter competition has unfolded in recent weeks as Philp and forward Jaedon Descheneau find themselves embroiled in a tight race for the team scoring title.
“He’s been ahead most of the year, but I don’t really look at it like a competition and I don’t think he does either,” Philp said. “We’ve been playing together most of the year, so it’s nice we’ve been able to play well together and get some points.”
Philp comes into the weekend riding an eight-game point streak (5-9-14) and sits two points shy of 200 in his WHL career. The native of Canmore, Alta., has posted 74 points in 63 games to lead the Ice this season.
Descheneau recently saw an eight-game point streak of his own (5-8-13) come to an end when he was blanked Feb. 27 in Brandon. The native of Edmonton, Alta., sits one point back of Philp.
“We don’t even talk about it. I had no idea,” Descheneau said Thursday afternoon. “We try to be as competitive as we can and we try to produce as much offense as we can. This year, mine hasn’t been quite as good as it was last year, which is frustrating. But we’ve got a lot of depth this year and everyone’s scoring goals.”
Descheneau has voiced frustration with his own play for most of the year. After firing home 44 goals and 98 points during the 2013-14 WHL campaign, the St. Louis Blues prospect sits on 29 goals and 73 points this season, which is nothing to sniff at.
Both Philp and Descheneau fall into the WHL’s top 20 in scoring. The 5-foot-10 Philp sits 15th, with the 5-foot-9 Descheneau hot on his heels in 16th heading into the weekend.
Scoring race aside, the Ice face a Red Deer Rebels team that is 5-3-1-1 in its past 10 games and fresh off a 6-2 victory over the Swift Current Broncos Wednesday night.
“They’re a good solid team. They play hard, they play physical,” Descheneau said. “You’ve got to get pucks behind their ‘D,’ get working on the cycle and move pucks through the neutral zone to create holes for yourself.
“When we play well, we have to play well the next night. We’ve been very inconsistent this year — win a bunch, lose a bunch in a row kind of thing. When we start winning we need to bring that the next night and not be satisfied for one night.
“To win in the playoffs, you’ve got to be consistent. It’s hard to win in this league and it’s especially hard to win in the playoffs.”
The Ice head into Friday’s contest 6-2-1-1 in their previous 10 games, leaving nothing but optimism amongst the players.
“Being ready to work right from the bat, right from the get-go and focus in on playing the whole 60 minutes,” Philp said of what it will take to get a win against the Rebels. “We’ve had slow starts in the past. We’ve got to have a good start. I think our team plays a lot better when we do.”
Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m. Friday, which is also 2015 Jersey Off the Back Night for the Ice.
Fans in attendance will have the opportunity to bid on Kootenay Ice blue alternate game-worn sweaters. Winners will meet their player following the game and receive their jersey at the conclusion of the playoffs.
All proceeds from Jersey Off the Back Night go towards the Kootenay Ice Education Fund.
Red Deer Rebels 3 at Kootenay Ice 1 (Jan. 9):