After 46 games, the Kootenay Ice are in a playoff position thanks in large part to their success against fellow Central Division teams.
While the Ice only have a 0.467 winning percentage overall this year, against their rivals in the Central they are 11-9-1-0. They’ve picked up five wins against Calgary, two wins over Edmonton, three over Red Deer and beat Medicine Hat for the first time since the 2015-16 season last week.
The only team they haven’t beaten so far this season, is the team they host tonight, the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
In second place in the division and five points ahead of the third place Ice, the ‘Canes shutout Kootenay twice with all-star netminder Stuart Skinner, before picking up a 5-2 win behind Logan Flodell, following Skinner’s trade to Swift Current.
“Lethbridge is a team that has owned us this year and I don’t know if it’s the matchup or how they play that’s been really hard on us, but we’ve got to find a way to solve them,” said head coach James Patrick, following the team’s disappointing 5-1 loss to the Oil Kings on Friday. “[We need to be] ready to play against [what] could be the best team in our division.”
Major sellers at the WHL trade deadline, the Hurricanes are a young team with some of the league’s most promising prospects. In their win over the Ice on January 13, they were powered by 16-year-old Dylan Cozens who had his first career hat-trick.
Cozens leads the WHL in rookie scoring with 39 points 40 games, just ahead of Kootenay forward Peyton Krebs who has 38 points in 41 games.
The pair were teammates on Team Canada Red during November’s U-17 World Hockey Challenge in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, winning a silver medal.
While Lethbridge lost their most recent outing 4-2 to the Cougars in Prince George, several players have been on hot streaks. Since coming over from Vancouver on January 9, overager Brad Morrison has only failed to pick up points in one game and has 12 in his first seven games as ‘Cane.
Jordy Bellerive, meanwhile, is only a game removed from a hat-trick and leads the team with 63 points in 45 games and former Kootenay player Jake Elmer has scored in back-to-back games.
“They’ve got some really good, strong two-way players [and] they’re a big team,” Patrick said. “Their defence is physical and boxes out a lot. They’ve got strong guys on the puck, [which is] their forward makeup.”
Frustrated with his team’s start on Friday night, Patrick is hoping for a more composed and effective first period against Lethbridge at home tonight. In his first game with the Ice, newly acquired goaltender Matt Berlin was hung out to dry and let in four of the first seven shots he faced.
While the team could give him another shot or play rookie Duncan McGovern, either goalie can expect to feel pressure as the Hurricanes are a high-scoring team with an effective power play. Scoring at a rate of 27.9 percent, third in the league, the ‘Canes outmatch the 22nd ranked Ice power play that has converted only 15.2 percent of their chances.
The game is the Cranbrook club’s second of a seven-game homestand. Following Tuesday night’s action, the team have two days off before a back-to-back series against the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Puck drop at Western Financial will be a 7:00 p.m. tonight.