The last time the Kootenay Ice and Edmonton Oil Kings met, forward Tim Bozon took matters into his own hands, registering a hat-trick to power his team to a 5-3 victory Jan. 22.
Prior to his twine-tickling outburst against the Oil Kings, the native of Valbonne, France, was fighting the puck, only registering two goals in his team’s previous 15 outings.
Including his three-goal outburst against the Oil Kings, Bozon has fired home 12 goals in his past 12 games. Through that 12-game stretch, he’s accounted for 26.7 per cent of all the goals scored by the Kootenay Ice (12 of 45 goals).
“Maybe I shoot the puck a little bit more and I think less,” Bozon said Thursday afternoon in regards to his recent hot run. “Sometimes I was thinking too much about whether I have to shoot or not.
“When Montreal Canadiens [scouts] were here a couple weeks ago, they told me that every time I’m in the slot I have to shoot the puck. That’s where I try to focus to keep it simple. Sometimes I try to make more plays than I should have. It works pretty good.
“It’s a roller coaster with me during this season.”
Despite the ups and downs, the third-round selection (64th overall, 2012) of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens leads the Kootenay Ice with 26 goals in 43 games this season. Heading into Friday’s contest with the Edmonton Oil Kings, he is third on the team scoring chart with 51 points, trailing forwards Jaedon Descheneau (25-42-67) and Luke Philp (23-39-62).
Bozon’s spectrum-stretching streaks don’t represent the lone roller-coaster rides in Cranbrook these days.
The Kootenay Ice have been a baffling puzzle to this point in the WHL regular season.
Last Wednesday, they handed the Central Division-leading Medicine Hat Tigers a resounding 6-3 loss before following up by dropping back-to-back games to teams well below them in the WHL’s Eastern Conference — a 5-1 loss to the Moose Jaw Warriors and 5-4 overtime defeat to the rebuilding Saskatoon Blades.
“Friday against Edmonton is huge for that first wild-card spot,” Bozon said. “I don’t know if we only play good against the good teams and bad against the bad teams. Maybe it’s motivation. I can’t tell you that. I don’t know. It’s not up to me to answer. So far we’ve shown we can beat everybody, but we can also lose against everybody. Now it’s going to be about consistency for the last 14 games.”
Consistency has been a hot word in the bowels of Western Financial Place all season long.
With veteran players such as Bozon, captain Sam Reinhart and alternates Jaedon Descheneau, Luke Philp, Rinat Valiev and Austin Vetterl, there’s plenty of leadership and experience to go around as this squad searches for consistent effort.
“I don’t say too much in the dressing room. I don’t talk too much. I try to let my play do the talking,” Bozon said. “It’s tough. Obviously you want to lead this team and you want to be the guy people follow. But for me it’s all on the ice. If I play good, the guys see that he is 20 years old, he has a [NHL] contract, but he is still working hard and still wants to win. I guess I let that do the talking on the ice.
“I want to keep doing like I’ve been doing the last two weeks. Hopefully the young guys and everybody else can follow up.”
Ice forward Matt Alfaro, 18, found a way to follow up this past week, registering two goals and an assist in Tuesday’s 5-2 road victory over the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Following the 5-1 loss to the Moose Jaw Warriors, the forward combinations were thrown into a hat and mixed up from top to bottom, seeing Alfaro lineup alongside fresh faces.
“You need to find chemistry again because you’re playing with new guys,” Alfaro said. “You need to just resort to doing the little things right and go from there.”
Alfaro’s two-goal performance in Lethbridge came down low in the dirty areas around the crease and he’s hoping to do more of that moving forward.
“I probably could have had a couple more goals last game if I stopped at the net,” Alfaro said. “Gilly [head coach Ryan McGill] reminded me that in the first period, so I learned from that. It’s really just being consistent and doing the little things around the net.”
Little things around the net will be required if the Kootenay Ice are to find a way to put pucks past Oil Kings goaltender Tristan Jarry. In 45 games between the pipes this season, the second-round selection (44th overall, 2013) of the Pittsburgh Penguins has backstopped the Oil Kings with a 2.66 goals-against average (fourth in the WHL).
“Jarry is a really good goalie, but they also have a really good defence in front of him,” Bozon said. “If you look, they don’t score a lot of goals, but they don’t allow a lot of goals. I think they’re one of the best defence in the league. It’s tough to score goals against them.
“Put a lot of pucks on net, capitalize on your chances and go in front of the net.”
The Oil Kings rank first in goals against in the WHL’s Eastern Conference heading into Friday night, having only allowed 162 pucks to cross the goal-line. The Calgary Hitmen sit a close second with 163 goals against, while the third-place Brandon Wheat Kings and Medicine Hat Tigers sit a far cry away, each with 179 goals against.
The Ice remain two points up on the Oil Kings for the first wild-card slot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, so the importance of this game can’t be underscored for either squad.
“Two points — really, that’s the biggest focus,” Alfaro said. “We’re going to take one game at a time for the rest of the season.
“We know Jarry is a good goalie. We’ve got to get lots of shots, get in front of him, stop at the net and also shut down their top line and play hard defensively.”
Friday also represents Pink the Rink Anti-Bullying Night at Western Financial Place. Fans are encouraged to show support by wearing pink attire.
Puck drop between the Oil Kings and Ice is slated for 7 p.m.
Interview audio: Kootenay Ice forward Tim Bozon (Feb. 19, 2015):
Video highlights: Kootenay Ice 5 at Edmonton Oil Kings 3 (Jan. 22, 2015):