Ice gear up to face Oil Kings, Tigers

Head coach James Patrick says team working on systems play after doubleheader against Chiefs

There’s no time to focus on the past when one of the best teams in the WHL (so far) is rolling into Cranbrook.

The Kootenay Ice are set to face the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings on Friday at Western Financial Place, which have started hot out of the gate with five wins in six games.

So far, they’ve dispatched the Rebels, Tigers and Hitmen, but dropped a close decision to the Blades on Wednesday night.

Despite limited scouting looks this early in the season, Ice head coach James Patrick says the Oil Kings are a dangerous squad.

“They’re one of the best teams in the league right now; they’ve had a great start,” Patrick said. “They have a lot of scoring, top heavy, that top line with Fix-Wolansky and Vince Loschiavo is playing the best hockey of his career.”

Fix-Wolansky tore up the WHL last year with 32 goals and 89 points and has continued to build on his offensive prowess, tallying 12 points in six games so far this season.

Loschiavo, who has already tallied five goals in six outings, is a former Kootenay Ice forward who was traded to Moose Jaw last year, and again to Edmonton this past offseason.

Patrick also highlighted the mobile nature and effectiveness of Edmonton’s defence corps, headed up by Matthew Robertson, a highly regarded blueliner eligible for this year’s NHL draft.

The Ice are also set for an early Thanksgiving contest against the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers on Monday afternoon. Note the early puck drop at 4 p.m.

Kootenay returned to Cranbrook over the weekend after completing the back half of a double header against the Chiefs in Spokane.

In both affairs, Spokane came out victorious in Cranbrook and in Washington State.

Friday’s game, despite a 7-4 final score for the Chiefs, featured a near-comeback from the Ice at the end, who scored late third period goals, however, Spokane sealed away the win with a pair of empty netters.

Saturday’s game in Spokane saw the Chiefs run up the score with six unanswered goals before Kootenay responded with a trio of markers in the third period.

“It’s definitely not what we wanted to start, but if it’s going to happen, its better to happen at the start [of the season], I think,” said Ice forward Peyton Krebs. “We learned a lot as a group and we know we have a lot to do here and a lot of work. If we keep working hard and doing our thing, we’re going to be a great team this year.”

In both cases, Patrick said he didn’t like how the team started.

“Our starts have been disappointing. Even in the camp games and all three league games, I haven’t liked our starts,” said Patrick. “…Both games against Spokane; the game in Spokane, I didn’t like seven, eight minutes. It was 1-0 for them, then the last nine minutes, I thought we played them even up, our chances were even, we were dialled in and playing the right way.”

Ice defenceman Dallas Hines said the Chiefs’ speed and forecheck caused fits for the team.

“They were on our D, made it hard for us to break the puck out, and if you can’t break the puck out, you got no O-zone time,” Hines said.

Coming back into Cranbrook, Patrick said he focused on systems play and practice habits this week.

“I want to keep working on a lot of our system stuff,” Patrick said. “Our neutral zone one-two-two and our D-zone coverage — it was an area we thought, all the coaches thought, that Spokane was real good at. They skated, they were disciplined, they were aggressive when could be, then if not, they really clogged up the neutral zone.

“It’s about knowing your system, then working at it, going out and working hard and moving your feet.”

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