It’s a bittersweet time for Kootenay Ice captain Tanner Lishchynsky.
On one hand, the 21-year-old native of Saskatoon has had the best season of his junior hockey career, tallying career highs in games played (55), goals (seven), assists (13) and points (20).
On the other, his Kootenay Ice squad faces the reality of missing out on the Western Hockey League post-season for the first time since its arrival in Cranbrook.
“A lot of ups and downs, obviously,” Lishchynsky said Thursday afternoon prior to practice at Western Financial Place. “I was happy to be named captain and try to help lead these guys. It’s been tough things to go through, but a good thing to go through in life.
“It was a lot of learning this year, but I was happy to do it, happy to lead these guys and it was fun all around.”
The learning isn’t quite over yet with five games remaining on the regular-season schedule and though Lishchynsky and the Ice won’t see the WHL post-season, they’re treating the final seven-game stretch as a their own personal playoff series.
“We’ve broken our whole season down into seven-game segments and haven’t had a lot of success with it, but we really talked about putting the emphasis on these seven as a playoff series and trying to do what we can to win it,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, Thursday afternoon. “I know [Wyatt Hoflin] and Lish, that’s what they’ve talked about. They just want to put that in their own minds — this is a playoff series because they’re not going to be in one.
“You just want to finish your year off as positive as you can so you head into your off-season feeling good about coming back. There’s still a lot of work to do.”
The first two games of Kootenay’s personal playoff series didn’t go exactly to plan, as injuries derailed the club, resulting in losses at Saskatoon and at home to Lethbridge.
Trailing 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, the Ice refuse to quit. After all, a best-of-seven series isn’t won or lost in the first two games and with a leader like Lishchynsky, quitting simply isn’t an option.
“My work ethic is a big part, I never gave up,” Lishchynsky said.
“We want to try to win as much as we can. If we can win at least two of the last three, that would be a pretty happy goal for me.”
Ever the loyal soldier, Lishchynsky has arguably saved his best hockey for last. Since being named the 20th captain in Kootenay Ice franchise history on Jan. 12, the 6-foot-1, 182-pound defenceman has elevated his play with the elevated responsibility of leading a young club.
“It’s obviously a very challenging time for him, being a 20-year-old you always want to finish your career off on a high note,” Pierce said. “The way our season has gone, it’s obviously been frustrating for him, but he’s handled it with class. He’s been a role model for our guys for sure and been a very vocal guy.
“His play took a giant leap forward in the time since we named him captain. He should have a ton of confidence continuing on his career.”
Offensively, six of Lishchynsky’s career-high seven goals and 11 of his career-high 20 points have come in 24 games since being named captain.
Lishchynsky will look to continue that trend as the Ice (10-51-6-0) will look to even their personal playoff series this weekend when they take on the Medicine Hat Tigers (27-35-3-2) in a home-and-home series beginning Friday (7:30 p.m.) in southern Alberta.
Following Friday’s festivities in Medicine Hat, the Ice and Tigers trek back across the border for a Saturday night contest (7 p.m.) at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook.