Ice wrap up remarkable season against Hitmen

Kootenay surges in the second half of the season and earns a berth into playoffs.

It’s been a remarkable season for the Kootenay Ice.

The club, which had all of ten wins in the first half of the season, turned a lurching ship around and collected 24 victories after the Christmas break, which was shot them up to eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings for the final playoff berth.

Youth was a theme for the team at the beginning of the season—the roster featured seven rookies, including Jakub Prochazka, who came in on the CHL Import Draft. Eight players came in a sophomores playing in their second season in the WHL, one of which, was goaltender Mackenzie Skapski, who had big shoes to fill following the graduation of Nathan Lieuwen.

It was a rough start to the season, with only seven wins in 20 games—a statistic that included a losing streak of eight games that nearly broke a franchise record.

However, something changed over Christmas.

“It was just perfect timing for us to all go our separate ways, go home, take a little rest, get our minds off of something other than hockey for a change and come back with a mentality to really make a push and come back and not throw the year away,” said Sam Reinhart.

Whether it was the luxury of a mental and physical break or some of that youth maturing into their roles—everyone came back with a renewed sense of purpose, starting with Skapski and his job inside the crease.

“We had guys come back from the Christmas break that were energized,” said Ice head coach Ryan McGill. “Our goalie probably came back and was a little more focused and had some more confidence and was being very detailed in his practice habits with our goaltending coach.”

“He was stopping pucks that we needed him to stop. He was making the saves when we needed the saves at timely times, so that’s where our confidence grew.”

The 18-year-old Abbotsford product backstopped the Ice to 12 wins in their first 14 games in the second half of the season, and it seemed as though his confidence rubbed off on the team in front of him.

Jaedon Descheneuau, who had all of 14 points last season, has currently tallied 74 points with 28 goals and 46 assists. Before the Christmas break, the young 17-year-old sniper had six goals.

Playing alongside Descheneau is Reinhart, who also at 17 years of age, is the team leader in points with 33 goals and 81 points.  Luke Philp, another member of the 1995-draft class, is fourth in the team point race, with 19 goals and 23 assists.

“Our young guys have developed into players we’ve said before—they’re fearless—and we needed to show some people the door and that’s where I think our dressing room blossomed,” continued McGill.

In the leadership department, Brock Montgomery is wearing an alternate captain mantle in his final season while having a career year with 31 goals and 48 points.

Joey Leach, who picked up the captaincy halfway through the campaign, has quarterbacked the defence and helped his rookie partner Tanner Faith to grow confident in his game.

However, the season isn’t quite done yet, with one last home and home set remaining with the Calgary Hitmen. The Hitmen are hot right now, riding a five game win streak.

In six meetings so far this year, the two teams have split right down the middle, with three wins apiece. Kootenay will hand out team awards in their final home game of the regular season on Friday.