Last weekend was one of the Kootenay Ice’s best, both on and off the ice.
The combination of ‘Pink the Rink’ night, ‘Jersey off the Back’ and Rogers Hometown Hockey brought in, by far, the biggest crowds of the year and gave an extra spark to the team.
Although they only picked up one win — a 3-2 overtime decision over the Saskatoon Blades before losing 4-1 to the Victoria Royals — both the coaching staff and players were happy with their effort.
“It was obviously a fun weekend with the crowds that we got [at home],” said top Kootenay centerman Brett Davis. “It was pretty energetic and loud, so hopefully we can take that momentum [and use it to our advantage] on the road.”
After a solid week of practice, the Ice are in Red Deer tonight before coming home to face the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Saturday in a busy weekend.
Kootenay shook up their routine over the past few days, holding a couple of sessions with skill development coach Wayne Dougherty amidst their regular systems and conditioning training.
Although the Ice will not make the playoffs this season, and are currently in last place in the WHL, in their remaining 13 games they will face a number of teams with a lot to play for.
The Rebels are one of those teams.
“[Red Deer] is fighting tooth and nail for those last couple of spots,” said head coach Luke Pierce. “They’ll be desperate, there’s no question. It’s never an easy building and we’re going to have to be good.”
Despite beating the Prince George Cougars in a shootout on Tuesday, the Rebels are in a tough stretch. At 2-6-1-1 in their last 10 games, Red Deer has been struggling to maintain the number three spot in the Central Division and avoid having to get in the postseason through the Wild Card.
On Saturday, the Ice host the Lethbridge Hurricanes, who remain one of the hottest teams in the league. While they lost their most recent game to Moose Jaw 3-1, the team has been on a tear since the trade deadline.
The ‘Canes are 8-2-0-0 in their past ten games and the former Ice players, who they traded for, have never been better.
Zak Zborosky has four points in his last four games and Matt Alfaro has seven in his last four, including a hat trick performance against the Saskatoon Blades last Saturday.
Not to be outdone, Lethbridge captain Tyler Wong has 10 points in his last four games with five points against Saskatoon alone.
After the Ice’s last game against Victoria, Pierce called out his own first line for failing to contribute. While the coach expects them to be better in Red Deer, he believes that the responsibility is on their shoulders.
“I think it’s up to them as top players to push themselves and fight through adversity,” Pierce said on Davis, Colton Kroeker and Vince Loschiavo who combined for 18 points in their previous four games, before being held scoreless on Saturday. “Part of being a guy that’s relied upon, is being [treated] as the most accountable players on our team.
“They need to be the best and in practice they have to dig in and get back to being contributors.”
While Davis admits that Saturday wasn’t the line’s best game, he isn’t letting it get to him.
“It was a frustrating game, but it’s good to take positives out of it and look at what you did wrong and try to do better for the next game,” he said. “[We’ll] just come out with a positive attitude.”
For Davis and the Ice, at this point in the season it’s all about just focusing on each game as they come.
“I just want to get better every day and the same goes for the team,” he said. “We don’t like to look too far in the future or in the past. We just take it day by day and see where that takes us.”
That’s the same message that Pierce is reinforcing.
“We, as a staff, have some ideas for the things that we want to make sure we’re improving on, but in our approach to our players, every day is important,” the coach said. “When you start talking about [the] end of the year, there’s a complacency that settles in — guys will let time pass and waste the day — we just try to keep the focus [on the] short term.”
Puck drop in Red Deer is at 7 p.m. tonight and Cranbrook game action gets going at 7 p.m. on Saturday night.