The Kootenay Ice are set to open the 2014-15 WHL regular season on the road this weekend, beginning Friday at the ENMAX Centrium in Red Deer against Brent Sutter’s Rebels.
“If you’re going to make the playoffs, you’ve got to win those divisional games early so you aren’t scrambling late,” said Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill Thursday afternoon.
The Ice opened the 2013-14 regular season against the Rebels, falling 4-2 at home on Sept. 20, 2013. Kootenay went on to post a record of 2-6-0 in eight games against the Rebels in 2013-14.
The Rebels closed out the 2014 pre-season 3-3-0.
Following Friday’s tilt in Red Deer, the Ice continue north in hopes of crashing the Oil Kings banner-raising party in Edmonton Saturday night.
The Oil Kings were crowned Western Hockey League champions in 2013-14, trumping the Portland Winterhawks in a seven-game thriller before moving on to claim Memorial Cup glory in London, Ont.
“When you go into two buildings having their opening night, you’d like to try to be a spoiler,” McGill said. “Hopefully [you’re] a little more focused than them and try to get out to a quick start.”
Edmonton wrapped up the pre-season 2-3-0.
Forwards Jon Martin and Luke Philp will bolster Kootenay’s lineup after returning from short stints at NHL rookie camps.
Martin, 19, rejoined the club earlier this week after time with the Vancouver Canucks in Penticton, B.C. The Winnipeg native registered a goal for the Canucks Young Stars Sept. 15 in a 6-1 loss to the Calgary Flames Young Stars.
Philp, also 19, was in London, Ont. at Toronto Maple Leafs rookie camp. According to McGill, he will join the team in time to suit up for Friday’s season opener in Red Deer. The native of Canmore, Alta. led the Ice in pre-season scoring (4G, 1A) despite only suiting up for two games prior to jetting for Leafs camp.
The Ice wrapped up the 2014 WHL pre-season Sept. 14, dropping a 4-1 decision to the Calgary Hitmen in Crowsnest Pass, Alta. Kootenay closed out the exhibition campaign 1-4-0.
Though lineups won’t be released until closer to puck drop (7 p.m. Friday and Saturday), Kootenay will undoubtedly ice a relatively young squad with six players at NHL training camps.
Included on that list are F Tim Bozon (Montreal Canadiens), F Sam Reinhart (Buffalo Sabres) and G Mackenzie Skapski (New York Rangers). Those three are considered long shots to return to Cranbrook this season. F Jaedon Descheneau (St. Louis Blues), D Tanner Faith (Minnesota Wild) and D Rinat Valiev (Toronto Maple Leafs) have all joined their respective clubs for main camp and will also be unavailable.
With that in mind, the extended tryout continues for youngsters both upfront and on the blue line.
Forwards Shane Allan, River Beattie, Jared Legien, Vince Loschiavo and Austin Wellsby continue to vie for ice time as do defencemen Bryan Allbee, Cale Fleury, Mark O’Shaughnessy and Dylan Overdyk.
The Ice are not expected to re-assign any players this week. Following last week’s exhibition loss to Calgary, McGill said staff would begin discussions as players are returned to the club from NHL camps. Evaluations will continue through the weekend.
Following this weekend, Kootenay returns to Red Deer for a re-engagement with the Rebels Sept. 27.
The Ice return to Cranbrook Oct. 3 to host the Spokane Chiefs in the team’s home opener at Western Financial Place.