Tuesday night’s 2-1 win over the Moose Jaw Warriors (7-3-0-0) proved that the Kootenay Ice (4-5-1-0) can keep up with anyone in their home rink.
Now, the team is hoping to prove they can be competitive anywhere.
Making the long bus ride to Medicine Hat on Friday for their first game of the year against the Tigers (5-3-0-0), the Ice know that extending their two-game winning streak won’t be easy.
“[Medicine Hat] is going to be another formidable challenge,” said head coach James Patrick after Thursday afternoon’s practice. “They’re a really quick team [and] their top four defencemen are really good.”
Statistically, the Tigers are led by veteran defenceman David Quenneville who has 14 points in seven games. The New York Islanders prospect is aided by forwards Mark Rassell, who has 12 points and Max Gerlach, who has seven.
According to Patrick, however, their bread-and-butter are their special teams. The Tigers have the third best power play percentage in the league going 11-for-31 and are also coming off a 5-for-7 night against the Saskatoon Blades.
“Right now, they’re living off their power plays,” the coach said. “You’d be crazy to play into that type of game, so it’s going to be a challenge for us to be disciplined.”
With only 85 penalty minutes in eight games, the Tigers are the most disciplined team in the WHL. Although the Ice currently have the sixth best penalty kill in the league, they would rather not have to use it.
“[The Tigers’] formula so far this year [has] been playing really disciplined 5-on-5. They always have five guys back and they’re quick when they get pucks,” Patrick said. “[Then] they wait for their special teams’ opportunities.”
Although the Ice haven’t been the pinnacle of discipline yet this year, with Barret Sheen being the top penalty-taker in the league, it was an element of their game that showed improvement against Moose Jaw.
The Ice only gave up two power play chances on Tuesday, killed them both, and scored on 1-of-3 of their own man advantages.
“We played our system and there weren’t many penalties… that’s our key,” said defenceman Martin Bodak. “Everyone played together too, [which was] good.”
Although he’s missed two games this season, the 19-year-old Czech defenceman leads the team’s blueline in points with seven in eight games. For the past two matches, Bodak has been paired with captain Cale Fleury becoming one of the most solid defensive duos in the league.
“[Bodak] is pretty similar to me. He’s a good two-way guy, pretty offensive as well and a good skater,” Fleury said. “I like playing with him [as] he makes it easy for me.”
According to Fleury, who went through last year’s tough season-series against the Tigers, who won all seven of their meetings against the Ice, this season should be a better matchup.
“We have a really talented team in all the deep forwards and we can match lines with most teams in the league,” Fleury said. “Our depth should help us out against the [Tigers]. We just need to play our system and we should have a good chance.”
Kootenay is on a nine-game losing streak while playing in Medicine Hat, and have not won a game in the Tigers’ building since November 22, 2014
Following the Friday night game, the Ice head back to Cranbrook immediately to host the Swift Current Broncos (8-1-0-0) on Saturday.
The Broncos are another team who swept their season series against the Ice last year, going 4-0 and outscoring Kootenay 21-11. In the only game this season, Swift Current had a 5-2 victory over the Cranbrook club.
Led by some of the top point-producers in the entire league in Tyler Steenbergen (25 in nine games and Aleksi Heponiemi (22 in nine games), the Broncos were recently named the third best CHL team in the weekly Top 10 rankings.
Although it’s still early in the season, the results of the weekend could violently shakeup the standings. Medicine Hat is currently in first place in the Central Division with 10 points in 8 games, but the Ice aren’t far behind with 9 in 10 games.
“We want to beat our division rivals all the time,” Fleury said. “It’s just kind of a pride thing, I guess. It helps make the playoffs too, if you beat all the teams in your division.”
The Ice are led in points by 16-year-old rookie forward Peyton Krebs who has 10 in 10 games this season. Bodak, Brett Davis and Colton Kroeker, meanwhile all have 7 each, while Vince Loschiavo is riding a three-game goal scoring streak.
Heading into the weekend, Patrick is pleased with the way the team has been playing of late.
“Last game was by far the best game we’ve played [all year],” he said. “I’ve talked to the guys [about] building off what we did. I thought we had a great middle lane drive, we backed off their defence, we created a lot chances getting guys driving to the net and getting pucks there.
“I thought defensively, we did a good job outnumbering them, having five against their three in the defensive zone. We got back into the house and protected the middle to start with… so a lot of the [game plan will be the] same, but it’s always a different challenge with another team.”
Puck drop at the Canalta Centre in Medicine Hat is at 7:30 p.m. tonight and on Saturday, the Broncos and Ice square off at 7:00 p.m at Western Financial Place.