They’re a long way from home this weekend, but the Kootenay Ice still have plenty to prove on the west coast.
On Friday night, the Ice will experience their third ‘teddy bear toss’ night, this time against the Victoria Royals and on Saturday, the team will pay their first visit to the Vancouver Giants’ new home in Langley.
Although they haven’t played in Victoria or Vancouver since 2015, and only two Ice players from that group remain with Kootenay, the team has demonstrated a lot of pride this season and look to give every team a run for their money.
While the Ice have only won one of three games so far in their current swing across the BC Division — falling 5-2 to the Kelowna Rockets, shutting out the Kamloops Blazers 4-0 and losing 3-1 to the Prince George Cougars — they have been very competitive every night.
As a young group, however, learning lessons have been in abundance during their first major road trip of the season.
Continued power play struggles were the story on Tuesday in Prince George, as the Ice went zero for six and failed to beat their opposition’s rookie goalie in a nearly two minute long 5-on-3 advantage.
According to head coach James Patrick, they’re still searching for answers to solve their league-worst man advantage which has only scored 18 goals in 133 chances this season.
“The guys that we’ve been putting out haven’t been getting it done, so we might have to look at using some different personnel,” he said following Tuesday’s game. “Those are the leaders on our team [and] the key guys, so it’s frustrating that they [haven’t] been willing to put [the puck] in the paint and battle.”
Veteran forward Vince Loschiavo is the only Kootenay player to have dawned an Ice sweater at Victoria’s Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre before, although defenceman Dallas Hines was also a member of the team at the time, but another familiar face from that previous December 3, 2015 visit will be in the building.
Drafted with Kootenay’s first-round pick (9th overall) in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, ahead of second-round pick Loschiavo and fifth-round pick Hines, Jared Legion is now a member of the Victoria Royals.
Legion only played one full season with the Ice, in 2015-16, and put up 8 points in 69 games while also earning the team’s ‘Community Player of the Year’ award. After two games last season, he left Kootenay and finished the year with the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Yorkton Terriers.
56 points in 51 games at the Junior ‘A’ level, earned Legion another shot in the WHL this fall with Victoria, and the 19-year-old forward has seized the opportunity by putting up a very impressive 31 points in 31 games so far this year.
Joining Legion as part of the Royals very dynamic offence are diminutive forwards Matthew Philips and Dante Hannoun, both under 5’8, who have also maintained a point-per-game pace.
Philips, a Calgary native and Flames prospect, has 47 points in 31 games and is eighth in WHL scoring. Last season, he had a goal and an assist in the Royals 4-1 win in Cranbrook.
Overall, Victoria is in first place in the BC Division with an 18-10-3-0 record, but are just 4-4-2-0 in their last 10 outings. Both their power play (12th in WHL) and penalty kill (14th in WHL) have been just average this season.
While Saturday night’s bout at the Langley Events Centre against the Giants should be an easier matchup for Kootenay, Vancouver is a team on the rise in 2017-18. They are third in their division with a 13-13-2-2 record and are on a two-game home winning streak.
Leading the Giants in scoring is New York Rangers’ prospect Ty Ronning who has 27 goals and 12 assists in 30 games, and former first overall WHL Bantam Draft pick and often injured Edmonton Oilers’ prospect, Tyler Benson, is also a threat to opposition with 26 points in 17 games this year.
In addition, the G-men have strong defencemen in Dylan Plouffe, Matt Barberis and Cranbrook’s own Bowen Byram. However, both Barberis and the 16-year-old Byram, are day-to-day with injuries and could potentially not factor into their lineup against the Ice.
The Ice also have the league’s top 16-year-old point producer in Peyton Krebs, who has 6 goals and 17 assists in 23 games and a very gifted two-way defenceman in recent addition Jonathan Smart.
The team could go with either Bailey Brkin or Duncan McGovern in net over the weekend. Both rookie goalies have played well during the road trip, but bring different abilities to the table.
Although McGovern has three wins with a 2.17 goals against average and a 0.926 save percentage — Brkin has dealt with a higher workload and has earned 6 wins, while maintaining a 4.25 goals against average and 0.811 save percentage.
Through 30 games, Kootenay has a 13-16-1-0 record and are in third place in the Central Division. A pair of wins would help significantly in their pursuit to pass the second-place Lethbridge Hurricanes who currently have two more points and two games in hand.