Kootenay Ice forward Colton Veloso skates against the Red Deer Rebels during the 2017-18 WHL season. (Brad McLeod Photo)

Kootenay Ice brace for visit from powerhouse Winterhawks

Portland riding hot streak into Cranbrook, should provide formidable test for surging team

After back-to-back wins against the Red Deer Rebels over the weekend, the Kootenay Ice are feeling pretty good lately.

Riding a six-game winning streak and only having had four losses all season, the Portland Winterhawks have been feeling good for awhile.

In their first visit to Western Financial Place in almost two years, the ‘Hawks should provide a big challenge for the Ice tonight.

“They’re as fast a team as we’ve seen, they move the puck and they fill lanes,” said Ice head coach James Patrick on Monday. “We’re going to have to come up with a game plan [but] all we can [really] do right now is play our game.

“In the offensive zone, we [need to] spread out our zone and try to get teams away from having such a collapse. We’ve talked a lot about trying to get bodies around the net and get some ugly goals [and] we have to still do a better job of that.”

Through 19 games, the ‘Hawks are the top team in the very competitive U.S. Division with a record of 15-4-0-0. The Ice are in second place in the Central Division after 23 games with a record of 10-12-1-0.

Portland is led by some big names including Vegas Golden Knights top draft pick Cody Glass, who was selected sixth overall in the NHL Entry Draft this past summer.

Glass has 32 points already this year and is on a six-game point streak. Fellow NHL prospect Kieffer Bellows, selected in the first round of the 2017 draft by the New York Islanders, plays with Glass on their first line and has 28 points.

The Winterhawks’ top defenceman is Finnish-import Henri Jokiharju, a 2017 first-round selection of the Chicago Blackhawks, who has 24 points so far this season.

In total, there are six players on the Portland squad who have been drafted into the NHL and according to Patrick their roster is full of talent.

“I think every shift is important and a good start is going to be really important with the depth they have,” the coach said. “They’re one of the top two or three teams in the whole league so we have to be ready for a really tough test.”

Patrick is hopeful that his team can continue to have success in their home rink, however, and believes that his group can be competitive with anyone.

“I think we’ve played really good at home for stretches,” he said. “[We have] the best opponent we’ve played all year [here], so we have to play three solid periods and have as good a start as possible.

“We’ve played some good hockey against Red Deer, Moose Jaw, Swift Current [and] Spokane over the last two or three weeks, so I think that gives us some confidence that we can play against the best teams in the league.”

Leading Kootenay with recent hot streaks are forwards Peyton Krebs and Colton Veloso.

Rookie Krebs has four points in the team’s last two games, while veteran Veloso has goals in back-to-back nights. As a former member of the ‘Hawks, the 20-year-old should have motivation to elevate his game.

Patrick though, is just focused on playing smart hockey and staying composed.

“With their speed and their depth, it’s really important that we have short shifts and we are tracking back as much as we can to make sure we have numbers coming back,” he said. “We’ve talked a lot [lately] about trying to get bodies around the net and get some ugly goals [and] we still have to do a better job of that.”

Puck drop between the Ice and Winterhawks is at 7 p.m. tonight at Western Financial Place.

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