The Kootenay Ice may be located in British Columbia, but they really don’t know a lot about the other WHL teams in the province.
As a member of the Central Division, the Cranbrook club rarely plays teams in the B.C. Division and according to head coach James Patrick, they’re really not sure what to expect.
“We’ll try to get a really good pre-scout on them and we’ll watch a couple of their games, [but] who knows,” he said after Wednesday night’s home win over Prince Albert. “I know [that] at the start of the year, there were a couple of teams [in B.C.] who looked not as good and now they’re playing [really well].
“Kamloops is playing as well as anyone the last couple weeks [and] Victoria started out as one of the best teams, [but] maybe they’ve come back down to earth a bit.”
According to Patrick, with the parity that exists in the league it can be tough to size up an opponent and the main focus will have to be on their own game plan.
“[I want our] neutral zone position [to improve] and I don’t want us cheating on the wrong side of the puck,” he said. “I didn’t like our urgency to sense danger [against Prince Albert]. When someone was along the boards in a battle, we had too many guys getting on the offensive side.”
The Ice kick off the road trip in Kelowna on Saturday, as they face the 15-8-2-1 Rockets for the first time since losing 7-3 to them at home last December.
Kelowna is currently in second place in the B.C. Division and are on a three-game winning streak, having recently knocked off Prince George, Medicine Hat and Vancouver.
“Kelowna has always been a good team,” Patrick said. “[They’re the only ones] we’re focused on right now.”
The Rockets are led by a number of high-profile NHL prospects including Dillon Dube (2016 second round draft pick, Calgary Flames), Kole Lind (2017 second round, Vancouver Canucks), Carsen Twarynski (2016 third round, Philadelphia Flyers) and defenceman Cal Foote (2017 first round, Tampa Bay Lightning).
Dube and Lind are tied for the team lead in points with 32 each, and the bench is also very deep behind them. Playing the most games in goal has been 2000-born James Porter, who has a goals against average of 3.41 and a 0.898 save percentage in 19 appearances this season.
Immediately following that game, the Ice head to an afternoon match against the Kamloops Blazers on Sunday. Although the Blazers (12-13-0-0) are in second-to-last place in the Western Conference, they are red hot as of late with five straight victories.
19-year-old Washington Capitals prospect Garrett Pilon has been their main point producer with 35 in 25 games, and the team also has one of the league’s best goaltenders in Dylan Ferguson who recently returned from a long emergency recall with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights.
Next week, Kootenay wraps up their road swing with a Tuesday game against the Prince George Cougars (9-13-2-2) and then a back-to-back weekend showdown with the Victoria Royals (18-9-2-0) and Vancouver Giants (11-12-2-2).
According to Ice forward Alec Baer, the team will be piling onto the bus in good spirit after their OT win on Wednesday.
“I think everyone [will be] upbeat in the room and on the bus, [so] it’s very good momentum for all these road games,” he said. “There are a couple of good B.C. teams and if we can come out and play the way we did [at home], we should be okay.”
A very special game for Baer will be the Saturday visit to the Langley Events Centre to face the Giants. Having played for Vancouver for over three and a half seasons, he is excited to see some familiar faces.
“[The Giants] are the only team so far that I’ve never played, so I’m very excited,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of really good buddies on that team [and] it should be a fun matchup.”
Baer has been one of the Ice’s top players so far this season, with 11 goals and 11 assists in 27 games, including two game-winning markers. Linemate Colton Kroeker leads the team in points with 23 in 24 games, and rookie Peyton Krebs has also been sharp with 21 points in 22 games.
Bailey Brkin and Duncan McGovern, meanwhile, have both been reliable options in net and should both see some ice time in B.C.
Puck drop for Saturday’s game in Kelowna will be at 8:05 p.m. MST.
ICE CHIPS: The Ice only have one player currently out of the lineup with an injury. Defenceman Loeden Schaufler (upper-body) is day-to-day after missing the past six weeks,