The speed at which a winning streak can morph into a losing skid is staggering.
After a game at home on Monday afternoon, in which the Kootenay Ice were looking for a sixth straight win, they are now trying to avoid fourth and fifth consecutive defeats just three days later.
Playing in Cranbrook at the start of the week and falling 5-4 in overtime to the Medicine Hat Tigers, the Ice then lost 7-0 in Lethbridge to the Hurricanes and 5-4 in Swift Current to the Broncos. With only one day of rest, road games against the Prince Albert Raiders on Friday and Saskatoon Blades on Saturday, will be important character tests.
Currently in second place in the Central Division behind the Tigers, with a record of 18-19-3-9 but only two points ahead of the ‘Canes who have three games in hand, Kootenay could use a win or two.
Their best shot should be against the Raiders, who sit just outside of the WHL playoff picture with a 13-17-6-2 record while playing in a very tough East Division. Prince Albert has lost their past five games, but did take the Regina Pats to overtime in their last outing.
The Raiders are led offensively by 20-year-old forward Jordy Stallard, who has 49 points in 38 games so far this season, and 17-year-old forward Cole Fonstad who has 44 points in 38 games.
Prince Albert also recently acquired overage forward Regan Nagy from the Victoria Royals, who has 24 points in 26 games and should make his Raider-debut against the Ice.
In between the pipes, Curtis Meger has been their starter recently and has a 0.885 save percentage, four wins and a 3.67 goals against average in his first 17 WHL games this year.
Much like Kootenay, Prince Albert is coming off a frustrating night in which they blew a two-goal lead in the third period against Regina. Unlike the Ice however, they salvaged a point in overtime, but should still have some angry energy heading into Friday night.
On Saturday, the Ice face a more difficult test against Saskatoon, a team which is currently riding a five-game winning streak and have several red-hot players.
Brandon Shmyr is the most recent recipient of the WHL’s ‘Player of the Week’ award and has a staggering 15 points in his last five games. The 20-year-old has 53 points in 39 games, only one point behind fellow overager Cameron Hebig, who has 54 in 37 games.
Also entering the night against the Ice with sizzling stats are Josh Paterson (11 points in the past five games) and Chase Wouters (8 points in the past 3 games).
Missing from the lineup, however, will be top defenceman Libor Hajek, who is away from the team at the World Juniors with the Czech Republic and rookie Kirby Dachs. Drafted just one spot after 2016 first overall pick Peyton Krebs of the Kootenay Ice, Dachs has 23 points in 29 games as a rookie, but is out week-to-week with an upper body injury.
In net, the Blades have most recently been relying on 16-year-old Nolan Maier, who has earned a win in each one of his last eight starts. Through 19 games in his rookie season, Maier has a goals against average of 3.37, a save percentage of 0.900 and a single shutout.
Although they are coming into the game cold, the Ice have been led recently by Krebs, who was recently named the WHL’s ‘Rookie of the Month’ for December, gritty forward Cameron Hausinger who has scored in seven of his last eight games and Alec Baer who has 9 points in his last seven games.
The team could start either Duncan McGovern or Bailey Brkin in net, as both have seen almost equal time in net this year. While McGovern is just one game removed from a four-game win streak, Brkin made 36 saves against the Broncos on Wednesday night.
Saskatoon is currently 19-17-2-1 and in the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Ice and Raiders have split their season series at one game apiece so far, while their visit to Saskatoon will be their first taste of the Saskatoon club since last season.
Following the weekend, Kootenay will have a six day break from game action to finally be given an opportunity to rest and practice, before taking on the Hurricanes on the road on Saturday, January 13.
ICE CHIPS: Swiss-import forward Gilian Kohler is out week-to-week with an upper body injury after being checked-to-the-head by Medicine Hat forward Ryan Jevne on Monday. While Jevne was given only a two-minute penalty at the time, he was later suspended for three games by the WHL.