There’s plenty of reason to dig into the memory bank this week if you’re the Kootenay Ice.
For starters, the Brandon Wheat Kings (9-3-0-2) cut a swath into Cranbrook Friday night — the first time the two teams will have met since the Wheaties unleashed a 13-1 beating on the visiting Ice back on Oct. 9 in Brandon.
But secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the Ice (3-11-1-0) are fresh off a 5-4 overtime victory against the Edmonton Oil Kings — a win that not only served as relief from a five-game losing streak, but could represent a turning point in the 2015-16 WHL season.
After all, the 2014-15 edition of the Kootenay Ice started the campaign 3-13-0-0 before going on an absolute tear — 15-4-0-0 from November through to Christmas — in order to pull back into the WHL’s Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Granted the 2014-15 and 2015-16 versions of the Kootenay Ice are radically different, there’s nothing to suggest a turnaround isn’t in the cards.
“I don’t think you can compare this year’s team with last year’s team but we can definitely gain momentum and build off that win we had in Edmonton,” said captain Luke Philp Thursday afternoon prior to practice at Western Financial Place. “We’re looking to get better every day here, so that was big and we’re definitely going to try and build off that.”
Philp helped lead the way to Monday’s victory with a four-point effort and as a result, vaulted into the WHL’s top-10 in scoring with nine goals and 21 points through 15 games.
On Philp’s flank Monday, as he has been nearly all season long, was winger Zak Zborosky, who registered the overtime-winning goal in a four-point performance of his own — a single-game career high.
Both Philp and Zborosky were around for last season’s slow start and subsequent surge, so if anyone is going to continue to lead the way towards the playoff picture, it’s these two.
“Yeah, I could see it as a turning point. In the last couple games, we’ve been close — all those one-goal games,” Zborosky said Thursday. “I think [the win in Edmonton] was a learning game. If we can continue to play like that and play a full 60 [minutes] — not give up those goals in the last five minutes, we should be okay.”
Including Monday’s overtime triumph, the Ice have found their way into seven one-goal games so far this season. So while the look in the standings might seem dire, there’s no arguing the fact this team has, on most nights, competed hard and had a shot at victory.
The last time the Ice met with the Wheat Kings, might leave one begging to differ. But a quick tour through the halls of Western Financial Place will suggest the team set to take to the ice against the Wheat Kings Friday night is not the same team that was thumped three weeks ago.
“We’re a different team than we were even two weeks ago,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Ice, Thursday. “They’re going through some stuff, too, and they’re obviously going to be hungry. We’ll have to be good, there’s no question.
“You have to respect their talent, but you can’t be scared. We’ve got to be aggressive and challenge them — take away time and space — all the things you hear bantam coaches talk about. If we sit back and try to just defend, we’re going to be in trouble. We need to make them play without the puck as much as we can.”
The Wheat Kings are in the midst of an eight-game road trip, which started well enough with wins in Saskatoon, Spokane and Tri-City, before spiralling into back-to-back five-goal losses in Portland (5-0, Oct. 25) and Seattle (7-2, Oct. 27). The mighty Wheaties bounced back with a 3-2 overtime win against the Everett Silvertips Wednesday night.
There’s no doubt the Ice are looking to add to the road woes of the Wheat Kings when they visit Western Financial Place Friday night.
“As players, we have to be a little ticked off that that happened to us,” Philp said. “It was pretty embarrassing. We’re going to come out with a much better effort.
“They have a lot of good players. They come at you in waves. They have a lot of guys who can score. They’ve got good ‘D’ and good goaltending — they’re a good team. You can’t look at any particular guy to shutdown. You have to focus on what we can do and not what they’re going to bring.”
Puck drop between the Ice and Wheat Kings is set for 7 p.m. on College Night at Western Financial Place.