It’s retro night at Western Financial Place tomorrow, but the Kootenay Ice aren’t planning to take a step backwards against the visiting Prince Albert Raiders.
Throwing back all the way to the 2016-17 season, the Ice are wearing their old black jerseys for the game and fans are no doubt hoping that last season’s play doesn’t seep into the players.
At 11-14-1-0, Kootenay is already only three wins away from matching last year’s total victory numbers and they still have 46 games remaining.
ICE holding Retro Night, game-worn jerseys to be auctioned off
— Kootenay ICE (@WHLKootenayICE) November 28, 2017
Coming off a 3-0 loss to the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Saturday night, however, the team is just focused on getting one tally back in the win column.
“I thought we did a lot of really good stuff in the game [against Lethbridge], but we weren’t determined or desperate enough to fight for that space around the net,” said head coach James Patrick. “[We have to] try to get some ugly goals.”
Earlier this season against the Raiders, the team lost 5-3 at home after a giving up four unanswered goals in that game’s first period.
“You never know how the game is going to go, [but] if we could play [like Saturday], it would be good,” Patrick said, referring to his team’s positive first period against the ‘Canes. “I thought our defencemen were involved and our forwards were moving and getting open. We were able to clear up some space in the offensive zone… if we can get some net front [presence] and get [more] pucks to the net, I think we can be even better.”
The Ice will be a slightly different team than the last time they played Prince Albert back in early November, when they were without point-leader Colton Kroeker, as well as Vince Loschiavo and Peyton Krebs.
“[Those players] only make a difference if they’re at the top of their game, they’re moving their feet and really competing in the battles,” Patrick said. “I think all three of those guys can do that and when they’re playing well, they make us a better team.
“I don’t think the opposition is thinking [about that though]. They just want to play their game plan and we [just] have to be way better than we were last time.”
Krebs will be facing Prince Albert for only the second time in his career, having last squared off against them as a 15-year-old. That night, he scored his first career WHL goal and had four points.
After playing with Kroeker and Alec Baer over the weekend, the rookie could be lining up next to Loschiavo and Brett Davis on Wednesday.
“There’s part of the game where you like him with Kroeker and Baer, but then there are times when they want to get too fancy and then I feel like I need to spread [the skill] around a bit [more],” Patrick explained. “He’s played a really good game with Brett Davis [in the past] and I think Vince was on the line, two or three games ago.
“There are times when you think about the match up and maybe he’s best [as a third line] centre. He can play wing or centre, so we’ll see, [but] I’m leaning towards keeping him on the left wing.”
While the Saturday loss to the ‘Canes was largely due to an outstanding shutout performance from Stuart Skinner, Patrick would still like to see more net-front presence to ensure success against the Raiders.
While the coach said Cam Hausinger has been good at that, he maintains that it’s an area every single player needs to be willing to go to.
“We have no exceptions to that rule. I don’t care if it’s Brett Davis, Alec Baer, Keenan Taphorn or Cole Muir,” Patrick said. “If you’re the guy in that area and we’re getting the puck in a scoring area, you have to get in front of that goalie… someone has to fight to take away his eyes.
“[Hausinger] is one of our better players and one of the guys most willing [to get in front], but I’ve been trying to harp on and encourage that we need everyone.”
Others not following Hausinger’s lead has had a big impact on special teams.
The Ice power play has been cold of late with zero goals in the past three games, despite 14 man advantage opportunities. For the season, the power play is second to last in the WHL with 15 goals on 111 total chances.
“Part of it is not staying in front of the net, [but] we did have some looks last game,” Patrick said. “We have to have more of a 5-on-5 mentality because we want to stick handle and all you do when you start stickhandling is that you let the [other team’s] defence reset.
“I know there’s some frustration from some of the players, but I said ‘No one around the league watching feels sorry for you. You’ve got to go out and make it happen […] you can get frustrated, but it’s got to be water off a duck’s back and then just get back out there and battle and get someone in front.”
The coach stressed that the best course of action when they have an extra man is to keep it simple.
“Get in a lane, get a puck to the paint, get a shot pass, get our middle defenseman open, get a shot through, screen the goalie,” he said. “With the way teams kill now, pretty plays are so seldom. When you watch NHL hockey, all you see is flank shots with someone in front of the net.”
While the Ice are mostly focused on their own game plan, they also know that the Raiders have several elite players.
20-year-old Jordy Stallard has 36 points in 24 games, while linemate Cole Fonstad has 30 points in 24 games as a 17-year-old sophomore.
“[The Raiders] have a good top line, but they’ve got some good depth that can play physical, skate and battle,” Patrick said. “We can’t look at the team we’re going to play and have any thoughts or feelings of whether [or not] it’s going to be easy.
“We did some good things against really good competition [in the Hurricanes and the Portland Winterhawks], but we still haven’t found a way to win and we want to learn from those.”
After 26 games, the Ice are in third place in the Central Division with 23 points, tied with the Hurricanes who have two games in hand.
The match will also be the Ice’s last home date for almost two weeks as they leave on the weekend for a road trip across the B.C. Division. After stops in Kelowna, Kamloops, Prince George, Victoria and Vancouver, Kootenay returns home to play the Calgary Hitmen on December 16.
According to Kroeker, after getting shutout in Cranbrook a few days ago, it’s important to give their crowd some goals.
“I think we have to focus on ourselves, shooting pucks, playing the right way, playing our system, playing for one another and hopefully, we’ll come out with a win for the fans,” he said. “We played a pretty good game against Lethbridge [and] had a lot of chances against them.
“We need to play the same way against Prince Albert [and] I think we’ll be fine.”
Puck drop against the Raiders is at 7 p.m at Western Financial Place.