Rookies adjust to life on the road

Kootenay prepares for final game before Christmas break against the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Jordan Steenbergen knows what he needs to bring after his first major WHL road trip.

“Definitely more snacks,” said the Ice rookie defenceman. “Didn’t bring enough snacks and probably some more of everything, like clothes.

“… As the rookie, I guess I didn’t pack well enough, but other than that, it was fun.”

It was the longest excursion from Cranbrook of the season for the Ice, which lasted 10 days, starting in Victoria and ending in Prince George.

“It was different being on the road for that amount of time, lots of time to sleep and rest, but also lots of time to get to know everyone better and bond as a team more,” said Steenbergen.

“It was different, being around the guys the whole time—since I don’t live with some of the guys—being in the hotel rooms and creating relationships,” added fellow rookie Matt Alfaro.

The results weren’t as good as the team were hoping for, with two wins and three losses during the swing through the B.C. Division.

Aside from a dismal 3-0 shutout in Victoria, Kootenay lost one-goal games against Vancouver and Kelowna, and picked up two wins against Kamloops and Prince George.

Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill summed up the performance last week before leaving for Team Canada and the World Junior Championships.

“Inconsistent,” said McGill. “We played very well in Kelowna, we should’ve won the game because we could’ve buried opportunities in the first period. There’s an opportunity there to win the game because of how we created offence.

“Same thing in Vancouver. We shouldn’t be two-and-three on this trip, we should be probably four-and-one and it’s a direct result of inconsistent play from our best players.”

Alfaro and Zborosky both collected three points over the trip, each potting a goal and two assists.

“It’s good. I’m getting more of an opportunity with the injuries and lots more ice time,” said Alfaro. “Just doing the best I can, trying to put some points on the board and just be a plus-player.”

Zborosky is the highest scoring rookie for the Ice this year, with five goals and eight assists in 32 games.

“I never expected it to be like this, but it’s been a really good thing for me, it’s helped me not only in hockey, but off the ice, I’ve become more mature and I’ve also improved a lot in hockey,” he said.

“I think what I want to work on is being more consistent each game, but I’ve also gotten used to the speed of the game.”

Kootenay struggles continued in their first game back on home ice against the Red Deer Rebels, suffering a 4-0 shutout on Teddy Bear Toss night on Friday, however, a huge performance from goaltender Mackenzie Skapski led to a 3-2 shootout win over the Broncos on Saturday.

The Ice now close out the first half of the WHL schedule with their final game before the Christmas break against the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes on Tuesday.

Currently the Ice are missing the services of Ryan Chynoweth, Tanner Faith, Jagger Dirk, Rinat Valiev—all injured—while captain Sam Reinhart is busy with the World Juniors.

However, the Hurricanes will be the final hurdle before a nine-day break where the players will get to head home and put hockey on the back burner.

The Hurricanes have had a tough year and hold the worst record in the CHL, however, it’s a new-look team since the Ice faced them last.

St. Louis Blues prospect Nick Walters joined the team in a deal that sent highly touted NHL prospect Ryan Pilon to Brandon. Lethbridge also added Teagan Sacher, a goaltender previously from Regina, as well as Carter Folk and Riley Sheen in October.

Despite the record, the ‘Canes blew out the Rebels 6-0 a week ago on home ice.

“We got to approach them like we approach Kelowna,” said Steenbergen. “You see them last week, they beat Red Deer 6-0 so any team can beat any team in this league on any given day and we can’t come in with our heads held too high.

“We gotta maintain consistency and come in like any other team.”

 

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