The Kootenay Ice face the Medicine Hat Tigers on the road tonight, in the teams fourth meeting of the season.
At this point, the Ice might prefer a visit to a literal tiger’s den.
In three years of games at the Canalta Centre, the home of the Tigers since 2015, the Ice have zero wins in nine games and have been outscored 54-20.
The last time a Cranbrook team came into The Hat and won was back on November 22, 2014 at the old Medicine Hat Arena. A 3-0 shutout victory, the final leftovers from that team — Cale Fleury and Vince Loschiavo — have recently moved on from the team.
Dating back to the beginning of last season, Kootenay has gone winless against Medicine Hat both on the road and at home with a 0-8-2-0 record overall against the Tabbies.
In a season so far marked by great change, including an abrupt reversal in a long losing streak to the Calgary Hitmen, the misfortunes against the Tigers have continued. In their first meeting of the year, they lost 11-1, the next game was a 4-1 loss and the most recent showdown — on January 1 — was a 5-4 overtime decision.
So there is reason for optimism. After a six-game losing streak to kick off 2018, the Ice were in top form at home on Sunday afternoon, handing the Saskatoon Blades a 7-2 loss.
Colton Kroeker and Brett Davis were stars in front of the home crowd, each earning three points in the blowout win. Kroeker now has 10 points in his eight games, while Davis has 14 in his last 11 outings.
Following the recent win, head coach James Patrick said that he is hopeful that his team can build off their success at home in order to finally best the Tigers.
“I thought we played one of our best games [against Medicine Hat on New Year’s Day],” he said. “I think they’ve distanced themselves from everyone in our division [and] they’re a good team. They’ve got mobile defencemen and some balanced lines.
“I’m just hoping the memory of that day and everyone feeling good about themselves with [the win against Saskatoon], that we can build off it. Knowing what a good team they are, we have to be at our best to beat them.”
Kootenay is on a five-game road losing streak, their longest dry spell away from Western Financial Place this year. While Sunday was a breakthrough, the team knows that it was just one game.
“[We] can’t get too high off these wins,” said Ice defenceman, Sam Huston. “We have a tough test and hopefully, we’ll have a good game and win. Then [we hope to] build a nice homestand here [and] build some wins off that and really make a push for [the playoffs].”
The Ice are currently in third place in the Central Division with a 19-22-3-0 record, 11 points behind the top-seed Tigers who have a 24-17-4-0 record. Although Kootenay is comfortably in a playoff spot, seven points ahead of the Calgary Hitmen, proving themselves to be competitive with the top teams in the league could do wonders for their confidence.
On the opposition’s side of the Ice, the team should pay special attention to Tigers’ captain Mark Rassell. The 20-year-old Calgary product is on a three-game goal scoring streak and has 13 points in his last 10 games.
He has also been an Ice-killer throughout his entire four-year career. Rassell has scored in 10 straight games against Kootenay dating back to October 19, 2016, has seven points against them in three games this season and, in total, has 25 points in 24 outings against the Cranbrook club.
His team, however, is on a two-game losing streak but took both to overtime, including a match against the league’s best team, the Moose Jaw Warriors. In their last 10 games, Medicine Hat is a respectable 5-3-2-0.
As special teams go, the Tigers have the advantage on the power play as the ninth best man advantage group in the WHL with a 23.2 percent efficiency rate, over the Ice’s league-worst 14.9 percent efficiency.
Kootenay has the better penalty kill though, at 79.6 percent, sixth in the WHL, over the 15th-ranking Medicine Hat kill (76.5 percent).
Both teams, however, have been competing to be the pinnacle of discipline. The Tigers have the least penalty minutes in the league and average 8.7 a game, and the Ice have the second-least and average 10 per night.
Following the game, the Kootenay Ice begin a seven-game homestand with a game against the Edmonton Oil Kings on Friday. Puck drop for tonight is set for 7 p.m.