Fans at Western Financial Place are coming off of an exhilarating week.
Over 60 curling teams from across the world invaded the Cranbrook arena from last Tuesday night to Sunday afternoon for the Tour Challenge, the second stop on the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling. It was the biggest sporting event the city has ever experienced and lived up to the hype with thrilling draws and good crowds.
Now, the curling sheets are gone and the hockey rink has been restored to allow the Kootenay Ice to return after an over two-week absence.
Talk about a tough act to follow.
Although fans at home have had a blast, Kootenay Ice supporters have had a rough time of late. The Ice lost all four of their road games in Regina, Prince Albert, Saskatoon, and Edmonton.
Tonight they make their grand return to Cranbrook to take on the Medicine Hat Tigers (13-5-1-0), a team that they have lost to twice already this year.
Last week was not busy for the Ice (3-11-4-1) who only had a single game throughout the last nine-day span, playing against the Oil Kings on Saturday.
Despite having plenty of time to practice — at the Kimberley Civic Centre while their arena was being used for curling — Kootenay could not correct the mistakes that caused them to lose in Saskatchewan and be shutout 3-0 in Edmonton.
“There were some things that we were better at and obviously our penalty kill, which we put a lot of focus on in practice was one hundred percent,” Pierce said of the game against the Oil Kings on Saturday night. “I thought that we generated some chances on our power play but we went 0 for 6.
“I thought we struggled in the second period and I think having a full week off of not playing may have had a little bit to do with it but we’ve gotten away a lot from our sacrifice and our effort level.
The Ice penalty kill thwarted all five chances that Edmonton had on Saturday, which was a marked improvement on their previous three games in which they allowed a goal on seven of 14 chances.
Two of the goals on Saturday were put in off the rush and one was a point shot, but for Pierce, it all comes down to putting a little extra effort in the defensive end.
“The two on the rush we just got out-worked … they’re 200-foot goals, they start from their end and they beat us all the way up the ice,” he said. “We’ve got to be two percent better [so those] don’t go in.
“[With] the point shot one, we have a reluctancy to block shots sometimes when it’s obvious that they’re going to hurt but you see the result … we have to start paying more of a price that way.”
The power play continued to be ice cold in Edmonton and is one for 20 in their last four games. Although the top unit has had their moments, Pierce feels something has to change.
“You can’t go through a long stretch without making some personnel changes and that’s something we have to look at,” he said. “I think our first unit had a lot of chances but I think it comes down to that killer instinct. The goaltender obviously played well but I don’t think we did enough in front of him to make his job difficult and that’s something we’ll learn from.”
When it comes to Medicine Hat, Pierce knows that they’re an elite team and that his group will have to be at their best to keep up with them.
In their first meeting this season, the Ice lost to the Tigers 10-3 on the road. They followed up that performance two nights later in Cranbrook with a 4-1 loss in front of their home fans.
The Tigers currently sit in first place in the Central Division with 27 points in 19 games while the Ice sit in last with 11 in as many games.
Medicine Hat has a potent offence with 91 goals so far this year, the second-highest total in the WHL. Seven of their players are averaging a point per game with centreman Mason Shaw leading the way with 31 points in 18 games. Only Sam Steel of the Regina Pats has more points and Shaw’s 26 assists are unmatched by anyone in the league.
The Ice, on the other hand, do not have a single player on a point-per-game pace. Their combined 43 tallies are the second lowest total in the WHL. Although 20-year-olds Matt Alfaro and Zak Zborosky have 16 and 18 points respectively, after starting out the year amongst the top goal scorers, Zborosky has fallen to ninth place in the category.
Both teams goaltending has been solid this season, the Tigers’ Nick Schneider is top in the league in wins with 12, while Payton Lee is in the top ten in WHL save percentage with 0.919.
Despite their lopsided previous matches, the Ice are hoping to be able to come out with a win tonight. Although they are on a four-game losing streak overall, they are still riding a two-game home winning streak.
It’s been over two weeks since their back-to-back wins against Brandon, but there still remains a chance that they could keep up their hot streak at home. The crowd at Western Financial Place will certainly be looking for it. After all, they’ve come to expect big things.
ICE CHIPS: The Ice organization and forward Dylan Stewart have mutually agreed to part ways. The team has stated that they will not comment any further on the decision. The roster now stands at 22 players (two goaltenders, seven defensemen, 13 forwards). Forward Kaeden Taphorn will be out of the lineup for three weeks with an upper-body injury and forward Shane Allan will be out of the lineup indefinitely with a lower body injury. With only 11 healthy forwards in the line-up at this time, the Ice’s highly anticipated 15-year-old prospect Peyton Krebs is expected to make his WHL debut against Lethbridge on Wednesday. The Ice’s first overall pick in the 2016 Bantam Draft, Krebs will only be eligible to play 5 games this season before his minor league team’s season has finished.