The Kootenay Ice only have two more tuneup games before they start the regular season and head coach James Patrick is hoping for a major improvement over Tuesday night.
Dressing a young lineup, the Ice lost 6-0 to the Tri-City Americans in Kennewick and halted their positive progress.
“I really felt that with the first three [preseason] games [that] we got better every game,” Patrick told media on Thursday. “ I liked the way we played in all three zones and we were getting our systems down pat.
“I didn’t like the Tri City game in a lot of ways so hopefully I’m not seeing patterns from that game [continue].”
After the loss to the Americans, Patrick blamed himself for not stressing the importance of backchecking enough and thought losing the little battles cost his team the game.
On Thursday, he added that their inexperienced lineup, by design for evaluation purposes, contributed to the lopsided defeat.
“Last game was a big [one] for evaluating. We played four young defencemen [and in] the last half of the game, I played [16-year-old] Blake Allan more than any forward,” Patrick explained. “We were evaluating, trying to see how they’d stand up, and it was a tough test.
“Zac Patrick’s compete and the way he played that game was really noticeable, [but] I was disappointed that I didn’t see that from a lot of other guys.”
After starting out with 35 players at the beginning of preseason, Kootenay is down to 30 players with four goaltenders, 10 defencemen and 16 forwards.
After the weekend, 16-year-old defenceman Jordan Chudley was reassigned along with all three 15-year-old players who were still with the team. After the loss to Tri-City, another 16-year-old blueliner, Nolan Orzeck, was also reassigned.
“[Orzeck] had a fantastic camp [and] in a big part of the game was ahead of the other young defencemen,” Patrick said. “His passing and vision, throughout the camp was at the top [of the team] with Martin Bodak.
“I think he could play in the league right now, no question, because he’s got really good hockey sense [but] he’s going to go back and play Midget and get 30 minutes a game and play in every situation.”
The 16-year-old defencemen who are still in the running for spots include Zac Patrick, Loeden Schaufler and Bobby Russell. The only two 16-year-old forwards still with the team are Blake Allan and Peyton Krebs.
While decisions are still being made, Patrick said that the final two preseason games will be closer to a dress rehearsal for the regular season. The Ice play the pair of contests in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta and take on the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Friday and the Calgary Hitmen on Saturday.
“We’d like to get close to [our opening night roster],” Patrick said. “Brett Davis isn’t here, but outside of him, we have our full squad. We’re trying to get closer to some [line] combinations and defence pairings that we’ll use.”
While Davis was invited to the Dallas Stars’ training camp, and should be there for the next three days to a week, Vince Loschiavo and Cale Fleury have returned from NHL prospect tournaments.
According to Loschiavo, playing with the Stars in Traverse City, Michigan was a great experience and he’s feeling confident about his first preseason action.
“I learned a ton from the [older] guys I played against … there were some pretty big boys out there and guys who have already played pro hockey so it was great to get a taste of that level,” Loschiavo said. “Right now [though] I’m just focused on helping the [Ice] and hopefully we’ll get a couple of wins this weekend. “
Patrick said that he is hopeful that playing divisional rivals will bring out the best in his team, even if it is still preseason.
“I do think you set the tone [in preseason] for teams that you’re going to see a lot of over the course of the year,” he said. “I know what I’ll be looking for based on last game and I hope we have some improvements for better efforts in some areas of the game than we had in Tri City.”
Both games will also be the preseason finales for the Hurricanes and Hitmen. Through four games, the Ice have a 1-3-0-0 preseason record, while Lethbridge is also at 1-3-0-0 and Calgary is 2-2-0-0.