Cam Hausinger doesn’t even remember what happened the last time his team played the Edmonton Oil Kings.
The Kootenay Ice forward certainly knows that his team swept the Brandon Wheat Kings over the weekend and beat Lethbridge 7-3 before that, but the game prior to that is a little foggy.
“How did last time go? I forget, seriously,” Hausinger told media after the Ice’s Wednesday practice. “We lost 5-1? Obviously, if we lost 5-1, we didn’t play our best.”
It’s hard to blame him for forgetting. The blowout at the hands of the WHL’s worst team in the standings two weeks ago, was a blip in an otherwise very successful stretch for the Ice.
Winners of six of their last seven games, the Cranbrook club is filled with confidence right now.
“We’ve had a good stretch here [and] we’ve got to keep it up,” Hausinger said. “We played [well in our] last two games this past weekend, so we’ve got to stay with what we’ve got.
“We [have to] compete because, as a team, we can’t take [them] lightly. They’re a good team when they want to be. If we underestimate them, they’re going to get the best of us.”
One person who has not forgotten the loss to the Oil Kings is head coach James Patrick, who recalls exactly what his team’s downfall was.
“I thought [our last game against them] was a classic example of us feeling really good about ourselves,” Patrick said, explaining that the team had just beaten the Medicine Hat Tigers at the time and were overconfident. “Individually, guys were starting to play differently than the way they’re supposed to play.
“Our plumbers thought they were danglers and our danglers thought they could even dangle twice as much.”
During that game, the Ice let in four goals on seven shots in the first period and were left with an insurmountable hill to climb. Patrick is certain to remind his players who may have forgotten that, despite their record, the Oil Kings have high-end talent.
“They have good players and guys with more points than [anyone] on our team,” Patrick said. “Their top end guys have put up some really big numbers, so you can’t take any team lightly. As that game went on, we did some good things the last half of the game.
“They outplayed us in the first period [though], from the drop of the puck. For us, the lesson is, you’d better be ready no matter who you’re playing.”
Just as Kootenay has been rolling, other than in the one game against Edmonton, the Oil Kings have struggled in every recent game other than the one against the Ice. Losers of six of their last seven, their last two efforts have gotten ugly with a 9-2 defeat in Prince Albert and 5-0 game in Saskatoon.
Nevertheless, the Oil Kings still have top-end talent in forwards Trey Fix-Wolansky, Tomas Soustal and Colton Kehler. Fix-Wolansky scored both Edmonton goals in the loss to Prince Albert, with Soustal getting the primary assist on both.
Fix-Wolansky leads the team in scoring with 58 points in 49 games, while Soustal has 41 points in 46 games and Kehler has 37 points in 48 games, including a team-high 22 goals.
“When someone on the other team is going really well, you have to pay special attention to them,” Patrick said of containing other teams’ best players. “That means, we’re not worried about scoring goals, we’re not getting on the offensive side of the puck [and] we’re getting in [their] face.”
Hausinger, who has played a crucial role in driving other teams crazy all year, agreed with the importance of stifling their best players.
“For our defence, we’ve got to have a good gap, but our third and fourth guys coming back, our forwards especially, have got to come back [and backcheck],” he said. “As long as we keep a third guy high and backtrack, it’s going to have an effect. At the same time, we have to limit our turnovers, so they don’t get the rush.”
At 23-23-3-0, the Ice are comfortably in a playoff position and only three points back of second place in the Central Division heading into the game. As the postseason comes more and more into focus on the horizon, both players and coaches expect the games to get increasingly intense.
“All our games are [against] our division and the Eastern [Division],” Patrick said. “We’re going to be playing a lot of really good teams and jockeying for position. [All these teams will be] fighting to the bitter end to get a home seat in the playoffs… it’s going to be almost the start of playoff hockey.”
For Hausinger, it’s a fun part of the season.
“That atmosphere hasn’t been around [Cranbrook] for a couple of years [so] to be able to feel it coming, it’s going to be a good experience,” he said. “At the same time, we need to keep working to make it to that step. It’s going to be a big thing [though]. I’m excited for it.”
With a win streak colliding with a losing streak, special teams could also be a big factor in the game’s outcome. A successful recent stretch has improved the Ice’s power play from worst in the league to 19th and converting at 16.9 percent. Edmonton’s penalty kill, meanwhile, is at the very bottom of the league with just a 69.4 percent success rate.
“[We] just need to keep being simple. I think that’s the biggest part,” Hausinger said of the success on the man advantage. “When we keep it simple and get pucks to the net, we get opportunities.”
Puck drop for tonight’s game is at 7 p.m. at Western Financial Place. It is the fifth of the Ice’s current seven-game homestand, which wraps up after this coming weekend.