Ice kick off American road trip in Everett

The Kootenay Ice take on the WHL’s best defensive team in their first of three straight road games.

Brad McLeod

Things just never seem to get easier for the Kootenay Ice.

After back-to-back weeks featuring four-game-in-five-day stretches, the Ice’s schedule finally calms down a bit this week, but now they kick off a long distance road trip where they start out playing one of the best team’s in the league.

The Ice are in Everett, Washington tonight to take on a Silvertips team who are in first place in the WHL’s Western Conference and second in the league.

Everett has an 18-3-4-0 record this year, and are on game five of a seven-game home stand. They are also on a three-game winning streak and have the hottest goalie in the league.

Carter Hart was perfect last week posting two shutouts in 3-0 home wins against the Prince George Cougars and Seattle Thunderbirds, which was good enough for him to be named the WHL Goaltender of the Week for a second straight week.

Hart leads the WHL this year in goals against average with 1.67, save percentage with 0.937 and shutouts with three.

Last season Hart was named both the WHL and CHL goaltender of the year for 2015-16, and his 13 wins this year put him in fourth place in that category.

The Silvertips also have a strong defensive core led by 2015 Montreal Canadiens first round draft pick Noah Juulsen, who was recently named to the Canadian National Junior team’s selection camp.

Everett has only given up 640 shots against this season, the second fewest of any WHL team. Their 45 goals against is by far the least of any team, with the next lowest total being 69 for the Prince George Cougars.

Needless to say, the Ice will likely have a difficult time finding the back of the net tonight.

After Sunday’s loss to the Edmonton Oil Kings, coach Luke Pierce said that he knew how challenging the Silvertips defence would be to match up with.

“We’ve got to be patient, we might end up with 15 to 20 shots, if we’re lucky,” Pierce said. “[Everett] does a really good job of defending and we’ve got to understand that, and not get discouraged by a lack of chances and opportunities, and try to capitalize on some bounces.

“It would be a great night for our fortunes to change and get luck on our side. They’re a really good hockey team that are really well coached, and we’ve got to give our guys the best plan for success and patience will be a big part of that.”

As opposed to Everett, Kootenay has let in a league-worst 116 goals against and only have 67 goals, the fourth lowest amount of any WHL team.

The Ice do, however, have one of the league’s top goal scorers. Zak Zborosky is tied for first place in goals with 20 so far this year, and single-handedly has almost 30 percent of Kootenay’s scoring.

Fellow Ice 20-year old, Matt Alfaro, has also been hot this year with nine goals and 15 assists in 27 games. He has eight points in the team’s last six games.

Although defence is the Silvertips bread and butter, they also have two players who are averaging over a point a game. Nanaimo’s Patrick Bajkov has 10 goals and 20 assists so far this year, while Austrian-import Dominic Zwerger has 10 goals and 26 assists.

Everett is also the least penalized team in the WHL with 226 — an average of just 9 minutes per game.

Following their game in Everett, the Ice travel to Seattle to play the Thunderbirds on Friday and then head to Portland to faceoff against the Winterhawks on Saturday.

While a win against the Silvertips will no doubt be a tall order for the struggling Ice, who are on a three-game losing streak, a solid performance tonight could go a long way in helping turn their season around.

 

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