After a weekend of games against two of the WHL’s top teams in Saskatchewan, the Kootenay Ice will look to get their season back on track in their return to Cranbrook tonight.
The Ice (2-4-1-0) lost back-to-back 5-2 games on Friday and Saturday, to the undefeated Swift Current Broncos (7-0-0-0) and the Moose Jaw Warriors (5-1-0-0).
Now, carrying three consecutive defeats, the Ice are hoping to take down the division-leading Red Deer Rebels (4-3-0-0) at home.
“Obviously [last weekend] was a tough trip, losing two games, but I think we did some good things,” said forward Brett Davis, who leads the team in goal-scoring with three. “[We’ll try to] take the positives [from our recent play] into [tonight].”
According to head coach James Patrick, while the team played well in spurts last weekend, they did not stick to the game plan consistently enough to beat top-tier teams.
“Compared to both of those teams, we didn’t play our system,” Patrick said. “There were a couple of shifts [over the weekend] that I didn’t know what system guys were playing and you’re not going to be successful doing that.
“[But] you have to learn from those experiences.”
Although the Rebels won their first three games of the year, they followed it up with a three-game losing streak before earning a rebound 4-1 home win over Everett on Tuesday night.
“[Red Deer] has been playing really well and they’re a very structured team,” Davis said. “They get pucks in deep, they work hard, [but] they’ve got a young defensive corps, so hopefully we’ll take advantage of that.”
Offensively this season, Red Deer has been led by 20-year-old Mason McCarty who has five goals and five assists in seven games. The Rebels also have weapons in veterans Grayson Pawlenchuk, Brandon Hagel and Czech-import Kristian Reichel.
The team’s defence, meanwhile, is composed of only one player born before 1999 and also includes Sam Pouliot, the younger brother of Ice defenceman Ryan Pouliot.
“If we use our speed and chip the puck in, we can get behind their defence and work from down low,” said Ice forward, Colton Kroeker. “We have a lot of speed on our team, so if we use that, then we’ll have a good chance to win the game.”
In net, the Rebels have a veteran option in Danish goalie Lasse Petersen, or could go with 2000-born Ethan Anders, who earned his first WHL win on Tuesday against the Silvertips.
For the Ice, the starting goaltender position is also undecided. Kurtis Chapman and Bailey Brkin both played over the weekend and Patrick believes they each have been equally impressive.
“In both games [over the weekend], they gave us as good of a chance to win as possible,” he said. “I haven’t decided who’s going to go for us [against Red Deer], but they’ve both played really well and are the least of our concerns.”
On defence, the Ice will definitely continue to miss captain Cale Fleury, who is serving the final game of his three-game suspension, but will see the return of Martin Bodak, after two missed games due to illness.
“It’ll be nice to have Bodak back in the lineup, [because] he settles down our young defensive corps,” Patrick said. “He’s played a really big role and minutes for us [and] I think [he’ll] help get the puck up to some of our forwards and maybe give them more opportunity to take possession going into the opposition zone.”
Up front, the forward lines will look a little different once again as Patrick continues to make adjustments.
After having good early success on a line with 16-year-old rookie Peyton Krebs and Swiss-import Gilian Kohler, Barrett Sheen spent this past week practicing with Davis and Vince Loschiavo, while 20-year-old Colton Veloso played with the young duo.
“I’m just trying to find spots for guys where they can be successful,” Patrick said. “I didn’t like some of our line combinations [and] I’m trying to find someone who can click with Peyton Krebs. He’s a good worker and competitive kid and creates opportunities and I felt at times that his linemates weren’t keeping up with him.
“On the whole this year, Barrett Sheen has played very well… maybe him and Brett and Vince can find some chemistry.”
Through seven games, Krebs leads the team with two goals and six assists for eight points, while Sheen is second with six points.
In addition to Bodak, Loschiavo will also return after having been a healthy scratch for Saturday’s game against Swift Current.
“I expect more from Vince and he expects more from himself,” Patrick said. “He is a big part of our team [and is] going to be a very important part of our team. He’s been working really hard and I expect his game to improve.”
Tonight’s match is the first of seven games between the Ice and Rebels this year. It is also the first of a three-game homestand and a series of seven of the team’s next eight games taking place in Cranbrook.
“I think it’s nice to just be settled here for a couple of weeks,” Patrick said of the schedule. “You can practice here, you get into a bit of a routine and you can get into some really good habits, sleep habits, practice habits, eating habits.”
For the players, playing at home gives a boost on game night as well.
“Our fans have been great so far and we’ve got to be great back to them, so we’re going to come out and try to put on a show for them,” Davis said. “[After that] hopefully [we’ll] head out on the road and get some wins there too.”
Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m tonight at Western Financial Place.