Since the Christmas break, the Kootenay Ice have been playing some of their best hockey of the season.
The team is 4-2 since December 27, and have won two of their three games so far in 2017. As they go on the road this week, however, they will be a much different looking team.
After a blockbuster trade on Monday morning, the Ice’s (former) two top scorers Zak Zborosky and Matt Alfaro are now members of the Lethbridge Hurricanes and have been replaced by newcomers Brett Davis and Colton Kroeker.
The 17 and 19-year-old forwards will play their first games as members of the Ice tonight, against the Swift Current Broncos on the road, before visiting the Brandon Wheat Kings for back-to-back matches over the weekend.
Kroeker immediately becomes the team’s point leader upon joining the Ice, as he has put up 27 points in 41 games so far this season, two more than defenceman Cale Fleury.
The 1997-born centreman from Surrey, BC was originally drafted in the seventh round of the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft by the Regina Pats. After a season and a half in Regina, Kroeker was traded to Lethbridge and now finds himself with the rebuilding Ice.
Kroeker is intended to fill a top-six forward role with Kootenay.
Davis is in his second full season in the WHL and was a fourth-round Hurricanes selection in 2014. He has put up 11 points in 29 games.
Even without Davis and Kroeker, the Ice were able to win their first post-Zborosky and Alfaro game on Monday afternoon against the Vancouver Giants in a good full team effort.
According to coach Luke Pierce, that’s what they’ll need to focus on to be successful not only this weekend but for the rest of the year.
“The team game mentality really is the biggest [focus] for us,” he said after Sunday’s game. “[We need to make] sure we embrace a little bit of a new identity and start putting our own stamp on it as a group.”
In three games this year, the Broncos have beaten the Ice every time with the last victory being a 5-2 shellacking at Western Financial Place. Kootenay will look to avoid being swept in the season series tonight in Swift Current.
“They’re a good hockey team, no question,” Pierce said of the Broncos. “They’re quick [and] I would argue they might [have] the best top four [defence] group in our league. They’re very active, very offensive-minded, and they play with a lot of pace. It’ll be a real tough test for us, and we’ve got to batten down the hatches and make sure we’re protecting our goalie.”
Although the Ice lost two veterans and important leaders in Zborosky and Alfaro, Pierce isn’t too concerned about his locker room.
“I thought our bench demeanour [on Sunday] was really positive,” he said. “I think [our players] realize, it’s up to us now, and we’re going to have to do this as a group.
“There’s no question, as we go along here, there’s going to be times where we’ll want to self-implode, and that’s another test of a young group.”
Pierce also said there are still definite leaders on the team.
“I think the way Cale Fleury carries himself and plays the game, he’s a pretty obvious leader of our group,” he said. “I think Austin Wellsby has done a good job, he keeps things light, he’s a guy that people really enjoy being around, a positive person, so we’re going to need a lot more of that.
“This’ll be a really true test, no different from the offensive stuff, where I think sometimes people assume that [Zborosky and Alfaro] were responsible for leading everything and they don’t step into the role, so now we’re going to see which guys are going to step up and help fill that void as well.”
Puck drop at the Credit Union iPlex is at 6 p.m. as the Ice go for their third consecutive win.