The puck will drop at 7 p.m. Friday night to open the Kootenay Ice’s first home game of the season at Western Financial Place.
Despite two losses to begin club’s season during a road trip through Alberta, the team is taking hard lessons to heart, even getting some instruction from Tom Renney, who lent a hand to the Ice coaching staff on Wednesday’s practice.
In a perfect world, Renney would be in Detroit right now, running the bench as an associate coach with the Red Wings during preseason action, but the NHL lockout has put the Cranbrook native in limbo while the league and the players union negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.
Renney observed drills with Ice head coach Ryan McGill and participated in a few, working with the defense on puck movement at the top of the blue line in the offensive zone.
The NHL coach also stood in both benches while McGill ran a five-on-five drill, giving pointers to players.
“He’s another wise hockey guy, obviously it helps to have him out there. [He brings] a fresh look on things and helped us out with a few things,” said Ice defenceman Joey Leach.
Kootenay is still working out the roster equation with a few prospects left in the lineup but coaches’ message inside the dressing room hasn’t changed from the preseason.
Cut down on the simple mistakes.
“Eliminate the easy mistakes, just be sharper,” said Leach. “They gave us the positives to take from it, and they gave us the negatives, and we just got to work on that.”
In addition to direction from the coaches, there are plenty of older veterans who will be counted on to step up into leadership roles.
Leach was an alternate captain last year, but Jagger Dirk, Tanner Muth and Erik Benoit are all 19 and will be leaders inside the locker room, even if they don’t wear a letter.
Drew Czerwonka, the captain last year, earned his ‘C’ by a team vote, but the letters will likely be handed out by the coaching staff this year, according to McGill.
“There’s a certain thing you look for in leadership qualities and you also want your leaders to be brought up from within, obviously,” McGill said.
“Players between the ages of 16 and 20, I’m not sure are qualified to name their own captain for their team, so therefore the coaching staff will do it.”
Leadership needs to come from a mix of younger and older players dialoguing with the coaching staff and the rest of the team, which doesn’t necessarily come from players who have a letter on their jersey, added McGill.
Having worn the alternate mantle last year, Leach agrees with McGill and said leadership is defined through actions on and off the ice.
“It doesn’t matter who the captain is, or the assistants,” said Leach. “We got a strong group of leaders coming back and you don’t have to be wearing a letter to say anything to the team.
“We’re not afraid to help each other out.”
The Ice have four 20-year-olds on the roster right now with Czerwonka, Leach, Brock Montgomery and Elgin Pearce. McGill said the letters will be handed out once the team cuts down to three overagers.
The Ice open the weekend with home games against the Pats on Friday and the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Saturday.
Including those two contests, Kootenay plays 10 of their next 11 games at Western Financial Place.
“Obviously, you like playing in your own rink with the fans and the building,” said Leach. “You get to sleep in your own bed and get home-cooked meals from your billets.
“You got more time for practice to work on those mistakes that we had in the previous games.”