Hitting the 100-game plateau can be quite the achievement for any junior hockey player.
It typically means you’ve remained healthy and endeared yourself to your coaches enough to maintain a regular spot in the lineup, therefore earning a long and productive career during your limited years of junior eligibility.
Kootenay Ice centre Dylan Stewart has always prided himself on his work ethic and that’s helped keep him in the lineup on a regular basis over two WHL seasons split with two separate clubs.
Stewart returned to the lineup Sunday following a five-game absence due to a head injury. The first game back was a big one for the 6-foot-1, 187-pound native of Edmonton as it was the 100th of his Western Hockey League career.
“It means a lot to me. It feels good that I can be a player that can be in the lineup most nights,” Stewart said Wednesday prior to practice at Western Financial Place. “I feel like I’ve been contributing this season more than I have [in past years].
“I always expect the most from myself. I always expect to be in the lineup, I never really thought about being scratched, so it was in my mind that I’d play 100 games.”
After coming to Cranbrook via trade from the Prince Albert Raiders on Oct. 21, it’s easy to see Stewart is contributing more than he has in the past. He has definitely filled a big role and left an impression as far as assistant coach Gordon Burnett is concerned.
“Dylan is good in the middle, he has a poise about him on the ice,” Burnett said Wednesday. “He’s really systematic.
“He’s good in the room. The guys like him. He works at practice and he pays attention to the details, which, as coaches, we obviously like.”
Through 32 games split between the Raiders and Ice this season, the pivot has posted four goals and nine points. The points total is a career high for Stewart, besting the seven points in 68 games he set in 2014-15 with the Raiders.
“With anybody, we just look for them to get better every day and work to get better, which [Dylan] has,” Burnett said. “He will hopefully move his way up in the lineup. He’s a reliable guy and as coaches, you love to have reliable guys that you can trust and you know what you’re going to get every day.
“When you put him on the ice, you know what you’re going to get out of Dylan Stewart.”
With an injury ravaged lineup, the return of Stewart was a welcome one for the coaching staff and his teammates this past week and it didn’t take long for the former fifth-round bantam draft pick to get back up to speed.
In Monday’s 3-2 loss in Calgary, Stewart factored into both Ice goals, including setting up Matt Alfaro for a power-play marker to tie the game in the second period.
“He plays in all situations, he plays penalty kill and he’s a good five-on-five player,” Alfaro said Wednesday. “Last game, he was on the power play and he set me up. It’s good to have him back. He’s a big body and we need him.
“He’s proved himself on the ice and in the locker room.”
While Stewart can check off the personal box for 100 WHL games played, the next list item for him and his Ice teammates is to collect a win over the Red Deer Rebels Thursday afternoon when the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup hosts visit Western Financial Place.
As it stands, the Ice (6-30-2-0) are mired in the midst of a 14-game losing skid and have yet to collect a win during the month of December.
“This is the last game of the month and we haven’t won a game this month,” Stewart said. “This is going to be like a Game 7 for us. We’re going to do anything to win this game. No one wants to go a full month without a win. People will be going a little bit extra for this game.”
The task won’t be an easy one as the Rebels (24-13-0-0) sit third in the Central Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference. Though it begs to be reminded, the Ice and Rebels have battled in some close contests.
Out of the four meetings so far between the divisional rivals, two contests have been one-goal games, including the most recent — a 5-4 barn-burner Dec. 18 in Red Deer.
Prior to that, the Ice fell 4-2 Dec. 15 in Cranbrook with an empty-net goal provided insurance for the Rebels.
In reality, three of the four games have come down to the final buzzer.
“We just come to play against them,” Alfaro said. “Maybe it’s because they’re the Memorial Cup hosts and we want to show that we can play with any team. We’ve just got to keep that going and hopefully get a win.
“We need to get to the net and keep moving our feet. They’ll take penalties. They proved that [Dec. 18] and our power play went to work and it brought us back in the game. We almost won that one, so we’ve just got to keep at it.”
Puck drop between the Ice and Rebels is slated for 4 p.m. at Western Financial Place.