To say Kootenay Ice head coach Luke Pierce wasn’t exactly pleased with his club’s performance Wednesday in Saskatoon might be the understatement of the season.
And who can blame him.
It’s pretty tough to find many bright spots in a 7-2 drubbing.
But as night turns to day and the world keeps turning, you have to move on and that’s the hope as the Ice (1-5-0-0) roll into Brandon to take on the Canadian Hockey League’s fourth-ranked Wheat Kings (3-1-0-1) Friday night.
“You don’t have a choice — this is the beauty thing about the game and the evil thing about the game,” Pierce said. “You don’t get two weeks to go and think about it. We’ve got to play and we have to play a really good team.
“We don’t get to say, ‘Okay, we need to go and play a midget team now to get some confidence back.’ No. We’ve got to go play the best team in the country, maybe.”
In fact, just a week ago, the Wheat Kings were the top-ranked team in the entire CHL. Sure, they’ve slipped to the lowly fourth position out of 60 teams in the country, but they also happen to have outscored their opponent a combined 14-3 in their previous two outings — a 6-0 win over the Regina Pats and an 8-3 thumping of the Vancouver Giants Tuesday night.
If the task wasn’t tough enough, the Ice will go with right wing Jaedon Descheneau (undisclosed injury) and defenceman Cale Fleury (upper body injury).
Descheneau was injured during the first period of Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the Prince Albert Raiders, while Fleury was knocked out of action during the second period of Wednesday’s loss to the Blades.
Neither are expected to return for either of the remaining two games on this four-game eastern swing.
While those might provide easy excuses for a young team on its first lengthy road trip of the year, Pierce doesn’t buy it.
“It’s a hole for sure, but it’s not an excuse for our team,” Pierce said. “I thought we used it as one [Wednesday in Saskatoon].
“We can’t use those excuses. It’s the 20 guys who pull the jersey on to play the game that have to figure it out. I’d love to have those guys in our lineup, but they’re not there so there’s no point concerning ourselves with it.
“Here you’ve got Descheneau out, you’ve got Fleury out and guys are getting opportunities to get in and step up and play. Not just getting into the lineup, but guys who are already in the lineup are getting a chance to play bigger minutes. Take advantage of it. Do something.”
If the Ice are going to end a three-game losing streak that began last Saturday in a 5-1 loss to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, it’s going to require a simplistic approach to the game.
The Wheat Kings boast depth and talent like few other clubs in the Western Hockey League, featuring NHL prospects Jayce Hawryluk, John Quenneville, Ivan Provorov and Tim McGauley, just to name a few.
If the Ice get into a run-and-gun exchange with the Wheat Kings, they may very well run into the same fate the Vancouver Giants did earlier this week.
“We’ve been preaching simplicity to our group and, for some reason, we have a hard time buying into that concept. We want to complicate the game and we want to play it like the Brandon Wheat Kings play it,” Pierce said. “We’re not there yet. We’re not. For us to have any chance, we have to be simple, we have to be smart and we’re going to have to sacrifice some stuff.
“I’m really interested to see what our response is like…After a drubbing, another character test for our group Friday.”
Puck drop at the Keystone Centre in Brandon is set for 7:30 p.m.
After Friday’s tilt in Brandon, the Ice begin their trek back home, stopping in Moose Jaw for a date with the Warriors Saturday night (7 p.m.).