Austin Vetterl makes no bones that the Kootenay Ice laid a bit of an egg on Wednesday night in a 6-2 loss against the Medicine Hat Tigers.
“I didn’t think we came out very strong,” the 19-year-old forward said. “Maybe it’s in our heads a bit in Med Hat, but sometimes, it just happens like that.
“I thought halfway through the game we picked it up, but by that time, it was 5-0 and it was too late at that point.”
Kootenay countered with a pair of late goals in the third period, and also rang the puck off the post a few times over the course of the contest, which could’ve turned the tide.
However, as with all things in life, there are lessons to be learned in defeat.
“We can play against that team in that building and we can be successful, but we have to play a full 60 minutes there, we can’t do it for half the game,” Vetterl noted.
That theme will play heavily into the weekend, as the Ice host the Prince Albert Raiders on Friday and the Calgary Hitmen on Saturday. Kootenay is clinging on to the final playoff spot in eighth place and have four of their next six games against Central Division opponents.
Every two points that the Ice can take away from their divisional foes will mean that much more distance in the standings race.
“We have to stay on the game plan and play hard against all those teams, especially against all the teams in Central [Division] they’re going to come out hard and give us their best game, because they’re rivals with us,” said Vetterl.
In Medicine Hat, the Tigers had a 3-0 lead after the first period, and a 5-0 lead early into the second frame. When facing the Raiders and the Hitmen this weekend, a better start will be crucial, added Vetterl.
“We have to go out, we have to start strong and play 60 minutes against them,” he said.
The Raiders are having a tough stretch, losing seven of their last eight games, including two blowouts in Swift Current and Red Deer. Calgary, which recently surrendered the top spot in the Eastern Conference to Edmonton, has lost six of their last eight outings.
While both teams may be struggling with a lack of confidence due to their recent records, Vetterl is also expecting them to come out with some fire.
“If you get on them early and get up on them early, they kind of lose confidence or they kind of sink into a shell,” said Vetterl. “But at the same time, they’re going to want to come out and prove themselves, especially PA—they’re going to want to prove they deserve a playoff spot—and Calgary, they can score whenever they want, they got such a great team, they made so many trades at the deadline.
“They’re both good teams, you got to get on them early, get their confidence down a bit and hopefully you can keep going from there.”
One weapon the Ice will continue to count on is Luke Philp, the second-line centre who extended his point streak to 11 games on Wednesday night with a powerplay goal. He is now up to 19 goals and 34 assists for 53 points so far this season.
Philp has been paired up with Tim Bozon, and the two have combined to add some bite to Kootenay’s offence. Joining Philp and Bozon on the the right wing is Vetterl himself, who has also helped out with eight goals and 15 assists.
Vetterl acknowledged how well his centreman has been performing recently.
“Luke Philp is playing great hockey right now, same with Timmy Bozon,” Vetterl said. “For Luke Philp, he’s our second line centre, and for him to bring secondary scoring, I guess you could call it, is huge for us, especially when you get guys like Sam, Desch and Frankie on the first line, it’s huge to have those guys going on the second line to give us a little extra scoring out there.”
NOTES: Kootenay has faced Prince Albert once at home and once on the road this season, the home team winning each game. The Raiders are coached by former Kootenay Ice bench boss Cory Clouston. Despite Calgary’s high perch in the Eastern Conference, the Ice have the edge in the season series, with three wins in their last five meetings to date.