Playoff seeding at stake as Ice wrap up season

Kootenay looks to keep their hold on fifth place heading into home and home series with the Hitmen.

The Kootenay Ice have one last statement to make this season as they get set for a home and home finale with the Calgary Hitmen.

Dropping the last two affairs in one-goal losses to the Oil Kings and Rebels, the Ice are trying to keep their grasp on fifth place in the Eastern Conference..

Calgary, in turn, is trying to wrest first place away from Edmonton—meaning both the Ice and the Hitmen will have something to play for when they go head-to-head this weekend.

Though Kootenay has the edge with a 4-1-1-0 record in the season series, head coach Ryan McGill said that the past doesn’t matter, especially with playoff seeding consequences on the line.

“It’s different for everybody,” said McGill. “We’re desperate to try to stay in the fifth spot and they’re desperate to try to get the number one spot. This is going to be a different animal this weekend.

“This isn’t just about previous success—I think this is going to be two desperate hockey teams and obviously, we’re shorthanded and they’re not, so it’ll be a test of our character and it’ll be a test of how well we can play defensively.”

Kootenay will play host for the final home game of the season on Friday. It will also be Awards Night, as the club will hand out team awards, save for the Playoff MVP, which will be handed out at the conclusion of the WHL post-season.

It’s a time of year where the out-of-town scoreboard can make a difference in the playoff seeding.

Calgary was in a dogfight for first overall, until Edmonton pulled ahead to lead by a pair of points. Edmonton finishes the season with a home and home series with the Rebels.

Kootenay, in turn, is only one point ahead of the Broncos, and will need to make a statement against Calgary to keep their tenuous hold on fifth place.

The Broncos can mathematically catch the Regina Pats for first in the East Division and second place in the Conference. The Pats, with 84 points—two ahead of the Ice—would take over fifth place and bump Kootenay down to sixth. Regina will wrap up their season with a home and home series with the Wheat Kings.

McGill wasn’t happy with a 1-0 loss in Edmonton, citing a lack of effort in some parts of the lineup. The 3-2 loss in Red Deer was a better game, but Rebels goaltender Patrik Bartosak stole the win with an unreal 47-save effort to hand the Ice their second defeat in as many nights.

WIth four games over five days, Kootenay—which traditionally practice every day of the week—had a day off on Thursday in advance of Calgary’s game on Friday.

It’s been an especially busy set of games for the defensive corps, which are missing Landon Cross and Landon Peel to injury.

“They’re doing the best they can,” McGill said of his defence. “They’re doing the best they can, we’re going to need Mackenzie [Skapski] to make some saves this weekend and when we get an opportunity to bury our chances, we’re going to have to bury our chances.

“It’s no different than any other time and, obviously, it’s a big weekend. We wish we weren’t in this position, but then at the same time, that’s hockey, and we have to deal with it.”

NOTES: The Kelowna Rockets clinched the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as regular season champions with a win over the Blazers on Wednesday.