The cavalcade of powerhouses visiting Western Financial Place continues, as the defending WHL champions take on the Ice in Cranbrook tonight.
After visits from the top two teams in the Eastern Conference — the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Swift Current Broncos — and last year’s best regular season team, the Regina Pats, the Seattle Thunderbirds should provide another formidable task for Kootenay.
Although, like the Pats, the T-birds (5-4-0-1) haven’t lived up to their potential yet this season, the Ice do not plan on taking them lightly.
“I watched their game and they were similar to Regina [in that they are] really aggressive,” said Ice head coach James Patrick. “They have the most physical defense that we’re going to see [and] they play in that U.S. division, which is probably the best division in the league.
“Everyone is talking about Tri-City and Portland being two of the top three teams in the league and these guys have competed with them and played well in that division.”
The Ice have had a fairly successful time at home in 2017-18 and have won three of their last four games in Cranbrook. Seattle, meanwhile, is 2-2 on the road.
After losing 6-3 to the Pats on Tuesday, the key to Kootenay’s success will come down to having a much more positive start.
“We had a meeting with the leadership group [and] they felt they weren’t doing enough before the game [to be prepared],” Patrick said. “So we’re going to try changing that up.
“[Also], I think when we’ve been good, we’ve managed the puck well [and] haven’t had [very many] turnovers.”
While the Thunderbirds are missing some key players from their championship team — including now 21-year-old point-leader Ryan Gropp and 20-year-old forward Mathew Barzal, who is playing in the NHL with the New York Islanders — the team still has a lot of offensive weapons.
Leading Seattle in points after 10 games this season is second-year Finnish-import Sami Moilanen, who has 14 points. Defenseman Austin Strand is second on the team in with 12.
Former Kootenay Ice forward Noah Philp is fifth on the team in scoring with seven points, after being traded out of Cranbrook in preseason.
“[The Ed Chynoweth Cup] was a great experience for all their holdovers, all the guys who came back,” Patrick said. They know what it’s like to be on a winning team. They know what you need to do to be successful.”
According to forward Jeff de Wit, who played in the league finals against Seattle with Regina last season, the Thunderbirds are a very difficult team to contain.
“I thought we had a more skilled team in Regina [last year] but [Seattle] came out with a lot of speed and they’re a very structured team.
“They are well-coached [and] it’s not going to be similar to the Regina game…. they’re going to come with a lot of speed and a lot of pace, so we’ve got to match that.”
The Ice are still led in points by both overager Colton Kroeker and 16-year-old rookie Peyton Krebs, who have 12 each. Brett Davis leads the team in goals with six, after putting up a pair on Tuesday night.
The Ice are currently in the third last position in the Eastern Conference with a 5-7-1-0 record. The Thunderbirds are also third last in the Western Conference, but have the final playoff Wild Card position.
“I expect a really tough game,” Patrick said. “The level of competition in this whole league has come up and it’s getting closer to parity, [so] I haven’t seen any easy games yet.”
Puck drop between the two teams is at 7 p.m. tonight at Western Financial Place. The Ice then play on Sunday afternoon against Red Deer before hitting the road.
ICE CHIPS: Kootenay announced on Thursday that the team had recalled 2001-born defenceman Nolan Orzeck. The move was made because of a number of injuries on the back end. Zachary Patrick is listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury and Loeden Schaufler will be out for an extended period of time with an upper body injury.