After a big, emotional win last Friday night at home, the Kootenay Ice were brought back to earth in Calgary the next day.
Although it was a close game, with the Hitmen only winning 3-1 after an empty net goal, the Ice saved their worst period for last. In the third frame, Kootenay was outshot 15-6 and were not competitive.
“We [didn’t] play a great first period, but [we had] a really good second and then I just thought in all areas [the Hitmen] were better than us in the third,” head coach James Patrick said on Tuesday morning. “It’s disappointing [to lose] a one-goal lead but we have to move forward and learn from it.”
According to Patrick, while there were a lot of positives from their first two games, having a full week of practice before hitting the ice for another game is a good thing.
“With where we are as a team, we need to keep just repeating our system [with our young players],” he said. “We [also] need to [get] stick-on-stick [and] I want us coming back and stopping in [our] position in the defensive zone.
“On the winning goal [on Saturday], our two forwards were swinging away and we didn’t have stick-on-stick and the pass came out from behind the net. We had forwards back but they didn’t stop in position [where] they could have made a difference on the play.”
The Ice don’t play until Friday night, when they face the Spokane Chiefs at home in the first of three straight game days. The team plays in Spokane on Saturday and then return home to face the Edmonton Oil Kings on Sunday afternoon.
In order to prepare themselves, Patrick wants to see the small parts of their game improve.
“We’ve got to get back to work on improving the areas of the game that we could’ve been better at,” he said. “Middle lane drive was almost non-existent in Calgary and [the Hitmen] were a lot stronger than us [at] 50-50 battles and backcheck.
“This week, [we] want to work on a little system and then some details and habits.”
The coach explained that, as is the case for every team in the league, hammering down their style of play and certain fundamentals for the young players is vital.
He also said that special teams will receive some attention in practice as well. The Ice are one for 10 on the power play and a perfect 10 for 10 on the penalty kill to start the season.
“I think we had nine chances on the power play [on Saturday] and if you do that eventually they’re going to go in,” Patrick said. “You just want to keep working, getting better [and] getting to know the guys that you’re on a unit with.
“[We’re] looking at the teams we’ll be playing [and] seeing how they kill and [we’ll] try to work [based on that].”
While a tremendous single-handed effort from Colton Kroeker on Saturday was the team’s only power play marker, according to the coach it was the unit of Brett Davis, Peyton Krebs, Alec Baer, Gilian Kohler and Martin Bodak who had the most man-advantage opportunities.
Kroeker however, was the top six forward who impressed the coach the most.
“We’ve experimented with different guys at centre and having a bit of a shortage [at that position], he is our best option,” Patrick said of Kroeker. “He didn’t play [centre] last year [and] we’re asking him to make that adjustment. Next to your goalie, it’s the most important position on the team. It’s hard to do and I thought that he did a pretty good job.”
While Davis, Vince Loschiavo and some other notable top offensive Ice talents have been held pointless so far, Patrick sees success coming if they continue in the right direction.
“We need out top six guys to play well [and] play a 200-foot game” he said. “That’s what I’m asking, just play really good two-way hockey [and] if they do that, they will produce.”
While it hasn’t become too much of an issue yet, discipline is another area that Kootenay will be looking to keep in check over the weekend.
Two players who have the most minor penalties are Tanner Sidaway and Barrett Sheen, who have a pair each, but Patrick sees them as completely different players.
“I’ve had no issue with Tanner’s penalties — they’re physical penalties and I want him finishing checks,” he said. “Barrett walks a fine line [however], he brings a presence to our team [and] he’s a big body with good hands [but] he doesn’t get much leeway with the refs.
“I haven’t liked some of the penalties that [Sheen] has taken and we’ve talked about it. He has to be smart [and] know what the score is and what time [in] the game it is. Like any player, he has to learn from it and get better in that area.”
The Friday night game against Spokane is at 7 p.m at Western Financial Place. The Chiefs are 2-0 heading into their third game of the season.