They say winning isn’t everything, but it’s gotta feel pretty good for the Kootenay Ice.
The hometown WHL club has strung together five consecutive victories, which is the longest streak so far in the season.
Not a bad reversal of fortunes after going through an eight-game losing slide at the end of October.
Overall improvement—as individuals and as a team unit—have been a large part of Kootenay’s post-Christmas turnaround, however, there is still lots of work to be done.
Along with improvement, Ice head coach Ryan McGill notices his players are playing with an impressive work ethic.
“One of the biggest things is we’re doing a good job of sticking to our high compete level—a good solid work ethic—and not getting away from that too much,” McGill said. “Obviously in this league, with young teams, sometimes you forget that you need to work first and do a few other things second. I think, for the most part, we’ve been consistently working as a group and not just individuals.
“That’s the biggest thing for me, for sure, in five games.”
McGill also credits Skapski’s work in net between the pipes and the work of the power play and penalty killing units.
“A lot of games are won and lost on special teams and I think last night was no different,” said McGill, pointing to Sam Reinhart’s powerplay buzzer-beater in the second period against the Rebels on Sunday that tied up the game at 1-1.
“That goal with a second left in the second period was a huge goal for us, regardless of the fact that we felt we had competed really hard in that period,” McGill said. “I just think that psychologically, going into the third period at 1-1 is a lot better psychologically than knowing that you’re competing really hard and should’ve had more goals, but didn’t get them.”
From an individual standpoint, guys like Levi Cable, Luke Philp and Tanner Faith have been standing out with some solid performances on and off the scoresheet.
Cable notched two assists over the weekend, and the Ice forward in his sophomore season has been playing with a lot more confidence. Philp, while not a rookie per se, as he got in 17 games with the Ice last year to cover injuries, is in third place for team scoring, with 11 goals and 10 assists.
Faith had a great weekend as well, posting an assist as Brock Montgomery tipped his point shot for a goal against the Broncos on Friday. The 17-year-old rookie has been paired up with veteran overage defenceman Joey Leach, and the results are pretty positive.
For his part, Faith is happy to be paired up with Leach on the blue line.
“It’s amazing,” said Faith. “Some of the things he does helps me out a lot. It helps me out more and lets me do my stuff, knowing that I can rely on Leach.”
“…He’s a really smart hockey player, so the things he does, all the little things, build up to winning hockey games.”
McGill said he had wanted to pair them up earlier, but Leach got injured at the beginning of December for eight games.
“Tanner’s done a lot on his own, obviously, but anytime you can play with Joey Leach, it just gives you that much more confidence that he’s going to be there to help you,” McGill said.
“There are a lot of intangibles that go into playing this game and a lot of intangibles that the coaches can’t give you but other players can and Joey has that leadership ability to do that and he’s certainly helped him along the way.”
The Ice are also benefiting with the return of forward Collin Shirley, who spent the Christmas break represeting the Canadian Prairies for Team West at the U17 World Hockey Challenge in Quebec (see adjacent story).
McGill confirmed that he’ll be back in the lineup for Tuesday’s game against the Edmonton Oil Kings. That leaves 13 other forwards, which will mean players will have to start competing for spots in the the lineup.