Only two games remain for the Kootenay Ice before the end of the season and a pending relocation to Winnipeg.
“We are playing games that are very meaningful in the standings for three teams,” said head coach James Patrick.
“I think it’s important to play as hard as we can and that’s what we have talked about. I think it is more important than anything. The franchise has been here for 20 years, and had some great fans who supported the team throughout.”
Patrick says coming out strong in the final games in Cranbrook will be vital, not only for the team but to show the appreciation to fans.
“You can just see the passion and care they have for this team. I think it’s so important that we go and play as hard as we can for the people who have supported this team,” he said.
The Ice will take on the Medicine Hat Tigers on March 15 at Western Financial Place.
Medicine Hat has secured a playoff spot and is sitting in the first Eastern Conference wild card spot.
The two teams have met five times this season, with the Ice winning one of the games.
To close out their time in Cranbrook, the Ice will host the Red Deer Rebels on March 17.
The Rebels have not clinched a playoff spot yet, but they occupy the final Eastern Conference wild card and are four points ahead of the trailing Brandon Wheat Kings.
“We are going to play against teams that are playing extremely hard because points are so important. I’ve talked to our guys about the experience of playing in a really intense game,” said Patrick.
The Ice have had a rough year in the standings, with a 12-44-7-3 record on the season so far with 34 points. The Swift Current Broncos are the lone team below them in the standings with 28 points.
The Ice power play has been minimal running at 17.2 per cent for the season, which puts them 18th. Their penalty killing is last in the league, going at 68.5 per cent for the year.
James joined the team nearly two years ago after being an assistant coach in the National Hockey League for many years. Throughout his time as being a Western Hockey League coach with the Ice he said he has learned a lot about teaching the athletes.
“The biggest learning experience for me is dealing with the players at this age. The emotional development, the hockey development, and the emotional development off ice the 16-20 year olds are going through — to teach and work with them has been the biggest thing to learn. There is more pressure on kids that age than ever before,” he said.
Within the two years of coaching, he has seen the progression of many players as they grow and develop their game.
“For me, it’s been an eye-opener but its been rewarding and fun working with players this age. I have enjoyed almost every minute of it,” said Patrick.
With the team relocating at the end of the season to Winnipeg, James says he has really enjoyed his time in the Kootenays.
“For me being in this area, I can’t say enough about how much I love what this community has to offer. I love the outdoors, in the spring/summer/fall — I Iove golf and mountain biking. I don’t think there is a better place in Canada for both of those,” said James.
James says to expect some emotional hockey on the weekend, as Cranbrook has left its mark on the players.
“A lot of them have gone to school here the last two years, they have been billeted with the same families … because it’s a small tight-knit community it makes our team the same. I think there is going to be some emotions. Definitely come Sunday and the end of the game it’s going to be emotional for our players,” he said.
March 15 will be Fan Appreciation and Awards Night, with puck drop scheduled for 7 p.m. On March 17 it will be Community Appreciation Game with puck drop scheduled for 4 p.m.