The wheels on the bus go round and round, but the rubber on the Kootenay Ice wagon isn’t doing much more than spinning as the team finds itself mired in a season-long, seven-game skid following back-to-back losses to the Vancouver Giants (8-17-2-2) and Victoria Royals (19-8-1-1) Friday and Saturday, respectively.
“You can’t hide from that — we are where we are,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, Sunday afternoon over the phone from just outside 100 Mile House as the team bus cruised on towards Prince George.
“Individually, confidence is at rock bottom. As a group, confidence is at rock bottom. But you still control your effort. You still control your intensity. And that’s going to help you work confidence back into your game.
“No one is going to fix it for you. Nobody has any sympathy for us, nor do I expect them to. No one is going to take it easy on you and no one is going to lift you up out of the rubble.”
Friday in Vancouver, the Stormtrooper-attired Giants summoned ‘The Force’ during the first period of play, blasting three goals past starting goaltender Declan Hobbs en route to a 4-0 victory.
“We weren’t sharp, we weren’t aggressive,” Pierce said. “Our puck management and decision-making was slow.
“We had a real long talk after the game Friday night and aired some things out. We discussed who we are as a team and trying to do away with any illusion of us being an uber-talented group.
“I’ve coached a lot of those types of groups in the past and you can have success. But you have to play as a team, you have to play structured and you have to play smart and you have to play hard.”
Giants forward Ty Ronning, Chase Lang and Radovan Bondra struck consecutively over a span of seven minutes and that was essentially it for the visitors.
Giants centre Alec Baer added the fourth and final tally midway through the second period to round out the scoring, while goaltender Ryan Kubic turned aside 25 pucks for his third-consecutive shutout and third win of the season.
At the other end, Hobbs was yanked after allowing four goals on 24 shots. Wyatt Hoflin came on to mop up and finished the night with 12 saves.
The task didn’t get any easier Saturday in Victoria.
After Ice import Roman Dymacek opened the scoring with his third marker of the season, the Royals rattled off five straight goals to skate to a decisive 5-1 triumph.
Royals import Vladimir Bobylev tied the contest less than two minutes after Dymacek gave the visitors the lead.
“The whole [first] period, I thought we were strong,” Pierce said.
“You get out of [the first period] playing a real good hockey team, playing your fourth game in five nights and you’re tied 1-1. You’ve got to be happy with that.”
In the second period, the Royals pulled away as Matthew Phillips scored bookend tallies sandwiched around a mid-period marker from Dante Hannoun and Victoria carried a 4-1 lead into the dressing room after 40 minutes.
“They’re all controllable mistakes,” Pierce said of the Royals’ second-period strikes, all of which came off Ice turnovers. “Whether that’s fatigue, or confidence or whatever, we have to find ways to remedy that.”
Veteran forward Alex Forsberg rounded out the scoring in the third period by adding his 10th of the season, giving himself a four-point night (1-3-4).
Between the pipes, Royals goaltender Coleman Vollrath earned his 16th win of the campaign by steering aside 21 of the 22 shots sent his way.
At the other end, Hoflin was once again busy as he made 38 stops on 43 shots.
The Ice roster suffered further attrition Saturday as forward Dylan Stewart (head) was lost to injury early in the contest. At this point, the Edmonton native is considered day-to-day.
The Ice spent Sunday on the road once again as they make their way north from Vancouver Island to Prince George for a Tuesday evening tilt with the Cougars (16-9-1-1).