The Kootenay Ice roll on without the services of captain Sam Reinhart, facing the Prince Albert Raiders Friday night at Western Financial Place.
Reinhart departed Thursday for Toronto and Team Canada Selection Camp ahead of the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.
“We’ll see the character of the hockey team,” said Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill Thursday afternoon. “It’s an opportunity for guys to be put into situations that they haven’t been in for a month. Hopefully they’re more ready now than they were a month ago. We need the points. We’re going to play eight games without [Reinhart] and we’re going to battle and we’re in a race. That’s the bottom line.
“We need guys to step up.”
A little more than a month ago, the Kootenay Ice suffered a 5-0 defeat on home ice to the Prince Albert Raiders Oct. 28. The loss was the sixth in a row for the Ice, who went on to drop seven consecutive contests.
A little more than a week later, and Sam Reinhart was returned to the Ice from the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, helping spark the revival of the club. The Ice were the hottest team in the WHL through the month of November, rolling to a record of 10-2-0-0, helped along by the steadying presence of the unflappable Reinhart.
“You can’t just replace a guy like him, with his skill set,” said Ice alternate captain Jaedon Descheneau Thursday afternoon. “But other guys can step up to create a full group.”
Reinhart, a native of North Vancouver, rattled off 27 points in 15 games since his return, only being held off the scoresheet Tuesday night in a 4-1 loss to the Medicine Hat Tigers.
“We’re looking for guys other than Bozon, Philp and Descheneau to step up and produce points, produce opportunities and wear the other team down so we can create opportunities for that top group,” McGill added.
Descheneau caught fire in the month of November, blasting off eight goals and 20 points in 12 games to earn Kootenay Ice Player of the Month honours.
“I didn’t even know they shut us out, I couldn’t remember back that far,” Descheneau said with a laugh. “It’s just another game, new day. We’ve got to practice today and get ready for [Friday]. I guess now that you’ve said that, let’s score a goal on these guys.”
In the only other meeting between the two clubs this season, the Raiders edged the Ice 3-2 Oct. 21 in Prince Albert. Rookie forward River Beattie and veteran Levi Cable tallied for the Ice.
With 40 games remaining on the schedule and identical records of 15-17-0-0, the Raiders and Ice sit tied and one point back of the Moose Jaw Warriors for the second wild card spot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
“You’ve got to beat them to get to where you want to be,” Descheneau said. “It’s a big game. We need the two points.”
Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin has started 20 consecutive games heading into Friday night. Hoflin leads the WHL in minutes played (1,684). With 831 saves, Hoflin also sits second behind Swift Current Broncos goaltender Landon Bow (846) for the league lead in saves.
“Absolutely, I do [worry about Hoflin wearing down], but in saying that, he has the personality to not go through peaks and valleys in his game mentally,” McGill said. “Yes, we do worry about him wearing down, but his mental makeup is so much different from the guy that was here last year that I think he can handle this. He’s just so much more on an even keel than the other guy.”
McGill is, of course, referring to his 2013-14 workhorse, Mackenzie Skapski, who is now with the Hartford Wolfpack of the American Hockey League.
The New York Rangers prospect suited up in 53 games for the Ice last season, but didn’t see a consecutive string any longer than 13 games.
Coming off a 3-0 loss to the Vancouver Giants, the Prince Albert Raiders arrive in Cranbrook without the services of star defenceman Josh Morrissey, who was dealt to the Kelowna Rockets late Wednesday night. Had he not been dealt, Morrisey likely wouldn’t have dressed against the Ice anyways, as he’s off to Toronto with Reinhart for Team Canada Selection Camp.
“He’s arguably one of the best defencemen in the league,” Descheneau said. “Obviously it’s nice when you don’t have to play against him. To not have to worry about a guy like him when you play is nice. But at the same time, they have other skilled players there and they play hard. You can’t just key on one guy or they’ll expose you. We have to play a team game.”
Friday marks the sixth game on a seven-game road trip for the Raiders. Prince Albert is 2-3-0-0 thus far, having dropped contests in Kelowna and Victoria in addition to Wednesday’s loss in Vancouver. The Raiders two victories came over the Prince George Cougars (5-2, Dec. 3) and Kamloops Blazers (5-4, Dec. 5) on the first two games of the trip.
Notes: The Kootenay Ice will be without D Tanner Faith until after the Christmas break. Faith is nursing an upper-body injury…Ice D Dylan Overdyk (concussion, indefinitely) is progressing. The rookie rearguard skated on his own Thursday, but has yet to participate in full practice. Overdyk suffered a concussion Nov. 21 when he was hit by Lethbridge Hurricanes forward Carter Folk…