It’s round two for the Kootenay Ice and the Edmonton Oil Kings.
In a repeat of last year’s opening playoff series, the two teams will face each other again in the same fashion, with the top-seeded Eastern Conference Oil Kings hosting the Ice in Edmonton on Friday and Sunday.
The defending WHL champions beat the Ice in all six regular season games last year, and swept Kootenay in four straight in the playoffs.
However, things are different this time around.
While Edmonton is fielding a strong team yet again, the Oil Kings and the Ice have three wins apiece in six meetings this year, which has helped boost the club’s confidence.
“We’re really excited,” said Ice forward Brock Montgomery. “We have three wins against them and that’s key going into their building. We did something remarkable after Christmas to come back, so I think everyone is excited to be in playoffs.
“We’ve beat top teams before and we know that we can beat them.”
Jaedon Descheneau will get the chance to play in front of his hometown crowd for the second time in as many post season appearances, while Sam Reinhart will do battle with his older brother Griffin, who patrols the blue line for the Oil Kings.
“Playoff hockey is playoff hockey, it doesn’t really matter who you’re playing—you got to bring your best game,” said Reinhart.
The two teams have a split record over the regular season, however, the home team won every matchup. Edmonton outscored the Ice 16-13 over the season series, while both sides recorded a shutout victory.
Looking at both teams, the statistics speak volumes.
Edmonton ended the season on top of the Eastern Conference, tied for second overall in the WHL with their championship opponents last year in the Portland Winterhawks taking the regular season crown.
The Oil Kings (51-15-2-4) led the conference in home wins, with 25 in the column, have the top powerplay at 28.6 per cent and the top penalty kill at 87.5 per cent. Their team defence and goaltending is very stingy, allowing the fewest goals across the league.
“They are the defending champions, they have 51 wins, they’re number one on the powerplay, number one on the penalty kill pretty much all year,” said Ice head coach Ryan McGill. “Obviously, we know we have our hands full, but we also want to make sure that we respect this team as much as we can, but we also want to make sure that we play to our strengths and play the game that we know we can play.”
Some statistics on the Kootenay end of things highlight the improvement of their road record. Before the Christmas break, the Ice had three wins in 15 road games. After the holiday, Kootenay collected 11 victories in 21 road games.
The Ice also capped off their season with a big road win in Calgary against the Hitmen, which has added more confidence to the players in the dressing room, said Montgomery.
“We didn’t have the best last month that we wanted to have, but we had a huge win against Calgary to finish off the season and I think that’s all the confidence we need going into playoffs,” Montgomery said.