Practice makes perfect as Ice prepare for ‘Canes, Pats

Kootenay gets down to work after suffering a pair of losses to open WHL season.

After a bit of a rude awakening last weekend, it was back to the drawing board for the Kootenay Ice.

More specifically, back to practice.

The Ice, facing the Red Deer Rebels in a home-and-home series to open their WHL season, fell apart in the final period of both games, which translated into two losses.

The Rebels only needed a mere eight seconds and 36 seconds in both those final periods to score a pair of goals to take the lead and eventually, the win.

“I think we played well at certain times, but we didn’t play well for a full 60 minutes,” said Ice defenceman Jagger Dirk.

A week of practice hones the habits that enable teams to win games, said Dirk.

Fitness. Hard work. Communication.

“This week we focused on getting back into shape and working hard to position, giving each other outs, giving each other options,” said Dirk. “We didn’t do that as much as we should’ve last weekend, and that’s why it costed us.”

As cliche as it sounds, little things like that add up over the course of the game, and can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

“They don’t seem like a big deal but at the end of the day, when the puck is in the back of your net and you wonder why—it comes back to those little things,” Dirk added.

Dirk contributed a goal to the cause last weekend, pinching in to the slot to bang a one-timer past Rebels netminder Patrik Bartosak on Friday night during the 4-2 loss.

Despite the two losses, the Ice were able stay in the games and generate quality offensive chances against the reigning CHL goaltender of the year.

“He’s a good goalie obviously, but we didn’t test him enough, we got shots on him early, but in the third period we didn’t get many scoring chances and they did, and that was the difference in both games,” said Ice forward Luke Philp.

Kootenay needs to light the lamp when opportunity comes knocking, which was another aspect of practice this week, said Philp.

“We got to do a little more off the rush I think, but we’ve been practicing that this week, getting pucks to the net, and keep moving our feet a little more off the rush, because that’s where had some problems last weekend,” said Philp.

Kootenay moves into the second weekend of the WHL season, with a pair of home games at Western Financial Place on Friday and Saturday evening.

First up are the Lethbridge Hurricanes, who, like Kootenay, suffered a pair of losses  to open their schedule. The Hurricanes are featuring a new regime behind the bench, including Cranbrook native Brad Lukowich as an assistant to head coach Drake Berehowsky—both of whom were hired in the offseason.

It’s Lukowich’s first coaching gig on the bench since his retirement as a professional hockey player in 2012.

Defenceman Ryan Pilon will be a notable name to watch, as he is already being touted as a first-rounder in the 2014 NHL Draft.

After the tilt against the Hurricanes, the Ice will be back for more on Saturday to take on the Regina Pats.

Like the ‘Canes, the Pats have a new head coach but it’s a familiar face as Malcom Cameron, who was an assistant to former bench boss Pat Conacher, stepped up to take the top job.

The Regina Pats have three games under their belts already—including two losses, but won an emphatic 6-0 beatdown of the reigning Eastern Conference champion Edmonton Oil Kings on Wednesday night.

The Pats have three NHL draft pics on the team—Morgan Klimchuk, Calgary Flames), Kyle Burroughs (NY Islanders) and Chandler Stephenson (Washington Capitals) and will be a different team under a new coaching staff.