With the magic of home wearing off, the Kootenay Ice will now try their luck in the land of living skies.
Wrapping up their season-high seven-game homestand with three consecutive regulation losses last week, the team is now in Saskatchewan for their next four games.
In the six games played, so far, this season in the province, the Ice have failed to pick up a single point and will be desperate to reverse that trend with games against the Saskatoon Blades, Prince Albert Raiders, Regina Pats and Moose Jaw Warriors.
All members of the powerhouse East Division, the Ice know that they’ll have their work cut out for them.
“Every team [in Saskatchewan] is really physical,” said Ice head coach James Patrick. “I’ll be the first to admit [that] we are a smaller, skating team and that’s our game plan for a lot of teams.
“Hopefully, this [trip will be] a good test to see if we can compete, battle, and stand up for ourselves, because that’s what we’re going to [have to do].”
In their most recent game, hosting the Swift Current Broncos, the Ice played well, but lost 5-3 to a group that many consider to be the cream of the WHL crop.
Kootenay outshot the Broncos 39-37 that night, and were tied with them until the midway point of the third period.
“I think if we bring the compete like we did [against Swift Current], we’ll be a hard team to play against the entire road trip,” said forward Cam Hausinger. “It doesn’t matter if we’re playing whatever team in the league, we’ve [just] got to play a full 60 minutes. That’s our main focus, being good mentally, physically and being prepared for the game. We’ll take it from there.”
The team’s first test of the week will be against the Blades on Tuesday night. With a 23-23-2-1 record, Saskatoon is in third place in the Eastern Conference Wild Card race, but are on a two-game losing streak.
In two meetings with the Blades, both back in January, the Ice have one win and one loss. The more recent effort, a 7-2 home win saw great performances from Hausinger — who had 3 assists — and Brett Davis, who had a pair of goals and an assist.
Davis has been the team’s most productive performer since mid-December, and had two goals in Kootenay’s last game against Swift Current.
“[Davis] has been playing well [and] you’ve got to give him credit,” said Hausinger of his linemate. “He’s been moving his feet. He’s a good guy to put out there when you need a goal.
“We’re a good team when he plays well. When he’s not playing well, our offence is a little weaker, so if he keeps it up, we’re a good offensive team. He’s a threat out there from anywhere on the ice.”
Despite his success this calendar year, the Ice are still led in points by captain Colton Kroeker who has 47 in 49 games. Fellow overager Alec Baer is next in line with 45 in 52 games, and rookie Peyton Krebs follows him with 44 points in 47 games.
For the Blades, they are led by 20-year-old forward Braylon Shmyr who has 67 points in 53 games. Second on the team is former-Medicine Hat Tigers player Max Gerlach who has 46 points in 46 games.
In net, they have two reliable options in overager Tyler Brown, and 17-year-old Nolan Maier. The Ice, on the other hand, will likely start veteran goalie Matt Berlin, as Duncan McGovern is currently serving a one-game suspension for a match penalty handed to him on Saturday. The team has recalled associate player Jesse Makaj, earlier this week.
Following the game against the Blades, the road trip gets progressively harder as they face Prince Albert on Wednesday night, a team that is one place ahead of Saskatoon in the standings.
In three previous meetings this season, the Raiders have beaten the Ice twice and also lost to them in a shootout. They have been rolling of late, and don’t have a regulation loss in their last eight games.
Jordy Stallard is Prince Albert’s main offensive producer this season, and has 67 points in 52 games.
Over the weekend, Kootenay will reunite with some old friends with visits to Regina and Moose Jaw. Friday night will be former captain Cale Fleury’s first game against the Kootenay Ice, after being traded to the Pats in November.
Since leaving Cranbrook, Fleury has put up 26 points in 33 games for the 2018 Memorial Cup hosts.
On Saturday, it will be former Ice alternate captain Vince Loschiavo’s debut against the Ice. With 12 points in 20 games since being sent to Moose Jaw in December, Loschiavo is part of a Warriors team that is in first-place in the entire league with a stunning 40-9-1-2 record.
Despite their success, the Ice have split their only two meetings with them this season, having managed a 2-1 win back on October 17. One of their two goals that night, however, was scored by Loschiavo.
The Kootenay Ice are currently in third place in the Central Division and would make the playoffs if it started today. At 23-26-3-0, they are seven points behind the Lethbridge Hurricanes for second place, but also six points ahead of the Red Deer Rebels for third.
Following the road trip, the Ice will play on Family Day Monday against the Hurricanes at 2 p.m. in Cranbrook.
NOTES: The Ice have recalled forward Blake Allan in advance of Tuesday’s game against Saskatoon. A Humboldt, Saskatchewan native, Allan has played 36 games with the Saskatoon Blazers of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League, and has nine goals and 29 points.