The Kootenay Ice have enjoyed a lot of success at home so far this season.
Despite being under a .500 winning percentage overall, the team is .600 at home and have been feeding off an increasingly electric Western Financial Place all year.
This weekend, the Ice host the Spokane Chiefs and Swift Current Broncos to end a seven-game homestand and feel good about their chances in Cranbrook.
“The fans have been great this year, so you’ve got to give credit to them,” said Ice forward Brett Davis, who was recently named the team’s ‘Player of the Month’ for January. “It’s just a whole new atmosphere here in Cranbrook and it’s a lot more exciting and energetic.
“Hopefully, we can get a couple more wins at home and then head on the road and get some more and make a good push for playoffs.”
Although the team lost 5-2 on Wednesday night to the Edmonton Oil Kings, a team well outside the playoff picture, they have otherwise been hot lately, winning five of their last seven contests.
At 23-24-3-0, the Ice are firmly in third place in the Central Division, but have less points than almost every team in the WHL outside of their Alberta rivals.
On Friday, the Spokane Chiefs (26-19-3-2) are in town and will be looking to move out of the Wild Card and into a top-three seed in the U.S. Division. The Chiefs have not been beaten in regulation in six games, but are coming off a 6-5 overtime defeat at the hands of the Everett Silvertips on Sunday.
Leading Spokane in points this season is overager Hudson Elynuik, a former Kootenay draft pick from 2012, who has 65 points in 50 games. He is joined by a stacked lineup which includes Los Angeles Kings prospect Jaret Anderson-Dolan (59 points in 48 games), top NHL Draft defence prospect Ty Smith (47 points 48 games) and Kailer Yamamoto (31 points in 12 games).
Yamamoto is the most recent winner of the WHL’s ‘Player of the Week’ honours and had a goal and three assists in the team’s last game.
“They’ve got a couple of really skilled forwards and we’re going to have to come out with a lot of intensity,” Davis said of the matchup. “We’re going to [have to] come out physically against those guys and hopefully we can shut down their top guys and then, put a few in the back of the net.”
Davis is the Ice’s only current NHL prospect, having been drafted last summer by the Dallas Stars in the sixth round, and had both goals in the team’s recent loss to Edmonton. Spokane has four on their roster, including Yamamoto, who played nine games with the Edmonton Oilers at the start of the year and had three assists.
The Chiefs have a slight edge in the season series, having won two games and lost one. While in those games, Spokane faced off against Bailey Brkin and Kurtis Chapman in the Ice goal, both netminders have since left the team.
This time around, they will face either Duncan McGovern or Matt Berlin. Having previously played for the Seattle Thunderbirds, Berlin started against the Chiefs three times earlier this year and earned two win.
On Saturday, Kootenay will face an even tougher test when the Broncos come to Cranbrook. Swift Current is currently second in the WHL with a 36-12-3-1 record and have the most dangerous first line in the league.
Finnish-import Aleksi Heponiemi has been scoring at an astonishing rate in 2017-18 with 93 points in just 39 games. Linemates Glenn Gawdin (92 points in 51 games) and Tyler Steenbergen (75 points in 37 games), meanwhile are also amongst the top 10 WHL scorers.
While the Ice have a 2-1 record against the Broncos so far this season, and none of the games have been lopsided, one of the three was during a diminished World Juniors roster period.
Swift Current is currently on a three-game winning streak, including a 4-0 shootout win over Prince George on Tuesday. The night before squaring off in Cranbrook, the team will be in Lethbridge taking on the Hurricanes.
The Broncos starting goalie is Stuart Skinner, the former netminder for the ‘Canes, who earned two shutouts against Kootenay earlier this season.
Following the weekend, the Ice will head out on a four-game road trip across Saskatchewan with stops in Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Regina and Moose Jaw.
Puck drop for both upcoming home games will be at 7 p.m. starting with Friday night’s tilt against Spokane.