“The moral victories are starting to get old.”
Although Kootenay Ice head coach Luke Pierce was very encouraged by his team’s performance on Tuesday night, his comments following the 5-4 OT loss to the best team in the CHL indicate that he’s ready for more.
He believes the team has the ability to win, and games against the Spokane Chiefs on Friday and the Kelowna Rockets on Saturday, should provide a perfect opportunity to get rolling.
The Ice did a tremendous job against the Regina Pats on Tuesday. They put up 50 shots and were even leading the game for the majority of the second period.
It was the third straight match that Kootenay has either won or taken to overtime, having put up similarly impressive outings in Seattle and Portland last weekend.
While it’s been the big guns leading the way offensively, with the top line of Matt Alfaro, Zak Zborosky and Vince Loschiavo piling up significant points in recent contests, Pierce has credited a lot of their success to getting contributions from their entire lineup.
On Tuesday, the Ice’s youthful ‘energy line’ of Keenan Taphorn, Tanner Sidaway, and Michael King played some minutes against the Pats top line — arguably the best line in the WHL — and kept the Ice in the game in the first period.
Noah Philp also scored a big goal in the second period with help from his linemates Austin Wellsby and Barrett Sheen, while the line of Jake Elmer, Reed Morison, and Max Patterson also looked sharp all night.
On defence, there were no noticeable weak spots. Cale Fleury continued to log big minutes, Ryan Pouliot and Fedor Rudakov were two-way threats, Dallas Hines created the team’s first goal with a smart shot, Bobby Russell was solid for a 16-year-old rookie, and newcomer Kurtis Rutledge looked to fit right in during his Kootenay debut.
The back-end will be bolstered this weekend by the return of veteran d-man Troy Murray, who missed the past four games with a suspension. With Murray back, Russell has returned to his minor league team in Langley, BC.
Loschiavo, however, has been the Ice’s star of late. The third-year winger has four goals in his past three games and has already eclipsed his season point total from last year. He was 8 goals, 6 assists, and only 6 penalty minutes through 31 games.
Although the Ice haven’t faced either team that they’ve playing this weekend yet this year, Pierce knows what to expect from Spokane.
“We know exactly what to expect from [the Chiefs], we played them five times last year [and] they’re going to be the same,” he said. “They work hard, they shoot everything… we’re going to be in for it. It’s a tough building to play in and we’ve got to be ready to compete.”
Spokane currently find themselves just outside of the tight Western Conference playoff picture. They’re 11-11-5-1 this season and only have more points than the Vancouver Giants in the West.
Pierce is more focused on what his team has to do, though, then on their opposition.
“It’ll be a good hockey game, and if we keep playing the way we did [against Regina], we’re going to win more than we’re going to lose.”
On Saturday, the return home to face the Kelowna Rockets. Last season, in their only meeting, the Rockets beat the Ice 4-1 at home. Although, they only play each other once a year, Kootenay hasn’t beaten them since November 25, 2011.
With the annual A&W Teddy Bear Toss happening on Saturday night at Western Financial Place, the Ice will be hoping that they can turn that trend around and put in some goals for the crowd.
In addition to Murray’s return, there is a good chance that Kaeden Taphorn could finally factor back into the Ice lineup this weekend. Earlier this week Pierce said that there was a chance that Taphorn, who had been out since October 26, would return in one of these two upcoming games.
Heading into the weekend, the Ice are in second last place in the league with a 6-17-7-1 record through 31 games.