Over a week removed from a 5-2 road loss to the Moose Jaw Warriors (7-1-0-0), the Kootenay Ice (3-5-1-0) believe that they are much-improved team for tonight’s rematch.
Not only have the club’s two best defenceman — Cale Fleury and Martin Bodak — returned to the lineup, but according to head coach James Patrick, he has confidence in every line and pairing on his roster.
“I thought [last game] we had four lines that contributed,” Patrick said, speaking of Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Everett Silvertips at home. “[We’re] not [very] worried about matching lines and I thought in the third period, [the fourth line was] one of our best lines.”
The checking line, which last game was made up of centre Michael King and wingers Kaeden Taphorn and Gilian Kohler, scored the key tying goal against Everett and should be depended on once again to play a vital role against Moose Jaw.
“Our fourth line has been playing really good,” said forward Alex Baer. “They’ve been getting pucks deep and working in the offensive zone, which is exactly what they need to do.
“The [Warriors] have two or three lines on their team that can really skate, so if we get a good matchup out there, I think we should be fine.”
During the Ice’s visit to Moose Jaw on October 6, the team got off to a solid start but then suffered from inconsistent play the rest of the way, which cost them a victory.
“I’ve said to the team that we can be good in spurts, but every shift is important and we can’t have letdowns,” Patrick said. “I think [our consistency] has [improved], definitely in the last two games… mistakes are going to be made on both sides [but] you want to try to limit the easy ones.”
Offensively, the Warriors are led by three veteran forwards in Brayden Burke, Noah Gregor and Jayden Halbgewachs, but are also a team with a lot of depth.
“They generate a lot of chances off the rush [so] we’re going to have to have a really good third man,” Patrick said. “When we played in Moose Jaw, they took it to our defence. They really skated, hard-drilled [us] wide and a couple [of our] guys had trouble containing them.
“That’s something we’re going to have to be aware of. We don’t want to give up any unforced rush chances and we’re going to need help coming back by our forwards.”
According to Patrick, defence will be a major focus with every player concentrating on playing a 200-foot game.
“I’ve put a lot on the shoulders of Colton Kroeker and Brett Davis to be as good defensively as possible and I want those guys to focus on defence first,” Patrick said. “It’s really important that we don’t turn over pucks in the neutral zone [and we] get pucks out of our zone and get pucks deep and [don’t] play one-on-one at blue lines.”
As for the Ice’s offensive game, the team has so far been led, statistically, by 16-year-old rookie Peyton Krebs, who has 10 points in nine games. Despite his production, Patrick is still focused on not putting too much pressure on the young player.
“Peyton has been really good for us [and] I think he will be a special player and he’s got a great work ethic and attitude,” the coach said. “At the same time, you want to make a young player earn his ice time… we haven’t used him 5-on-3 because you still want to go with guys who’ve done it in the past to some extent.
“Definitely, over the next couple of years, he’s going to be playing in all situations.”
According to Krebs, his success has been simple: he’s working hard and playing with great linemates.
“I play my hardest and just do what James says and it seems to work out,” Krebs explained. “[Barrett] Sheen creates space and he can shoot the puck, same with [Colton] Veloso… when you give it to one of those two guys, they do the rest.”
The Ice are entering tonight’s home contest on a one-game winning streaking, after snapping a four-game skid on Saturday. The Warriors are coming in on a two-game winning streak, but also beginning their first road trip after having played their last seven matches at home.
“Maybe it is a bit of a difference for them after being settled at home and they won’t get their matchups as easy and hopefully, that will help us out,” Patrick said cautiously. “Every game is different [though].”
The home crowd should also give the Ice a boost. Under new management, the team has been generating larger crowds than in previous recent seasons and the exuberance has been intoxicating.
“Being at home in our own building and with our fans, we want to start off energized,” Patrick said. “You want to be good right off the bat. It’s just as important as any other time of the game, but you don’t want to be behind the eight ball early.”
Puck drop for tonight’s game is at 7 p.m at Western Financial Place. The Ice currently sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference Wild Card race, while the Warriors are in third in the East Division.
Following the game, the Ice have a few days of practice and then travel to Medicine Hat to play the Tigers on Friday and then return home to play the Swift Current Broncos on Saturday.