On Friday night, the Kootenay Ice will be hosting the only team in WHL that they haven’t faced yet this year.
Making their bi-annual visit to Cranbrook, the Tri-City Americans are catching the Ice at a bit of a bad time and the home team will desperate for a win. Kootenay only have two wins in their past ten outings and have blown several recent chances to take games to overtime.
After months of being safely in third place in the Central Division, the Ice are now tied with the surging Red Deer Rebels for their playoff spot.
The Ice (24-31-3-0) have more outright wins than the Rebels (19-26-10-3) but both teams have 51 points and seem destined to battle for a position in the postseason until the end of the year.
Despite their difficult recent stretch, the Cranbrook club has not exactly been slumping and feel confident that success should come to them if they stick with the program.
“I think we’ve been doing a lot of the right things, and we’ve been working hard, so eventually things are going to go our way,” said forward Colton Veloso after the team’s 3-2 loss to the Saskatoon Blades on Wednesday. “Right now, at the end, we’re [just] not getting the bounces, be we can’t let that discourage us. We’ve got to come out and stay positive, and eventually things will go our way.”
The Ice were right in the game against the Blades and were tied with less than three minutes remaining. Aside from a 6-0 thrashing by the powerhouse Moose Jaw Warriors, Kootenay has scored at least two goals in their past 12 games.
Although Tri-City aren’t fighting for their playoff lives, having a 10-point cushion for a Western Conference wild card spot, they have been rolling on their road trip so far. The Americans beat the Lethbridge Hurricanes 6-3 on Tuesday and the Calgary Hitmen 4-3 on Wednesday.
Led by NHL prospects Michael Rasmussen, the seventh overall pick in the 2017 Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings, and Jake Bean, the 13th overall pick in 2016 by the Carolina Hurricanes, the Ams know how to score and know how to win.
With six wins over their past 10 games, they are one of the hotter teams in the league and have a pair of reliable goalies in 18-year-old Beck Warm and 20-year-old Patrick Dea. Both netminders put up over 0.900 save percentage while trading off games earlier this week.
Morgan Geekie leads the team in scoring with 65 points in 52 games, followed closely by Jordan Topping who has 64 points in 56 games.
“They’re a big, strong team, so I think we’ve got to be physical and stand our ground,” Veloso said. “We can’t be stick checking, we’ve got to play them hard because they’ve got some great talent in front and on the back end, as well. It’s going to be a tough game [and] we’re ready and we’re excited.”
For Kootenay, their point leader is captain Colton Kroeker who has 52 points in 55 games, but Dallas Stars prospect Brett Davis has been their biggest impact player as of late. Davis had a goal and an assist on Wednesday and has come through in clutch moments all year.
According to Patrick, if his team is going to start winning, however, they need to get more out of their three 20-year-old forwards: Kroeker, Veloso and Alec Baer.
“Brett was really good, but I thought the third line, was the one that gave us life in the first period with [Cole] Muir, Kaeden [Taphorn] and [Gilian] Kohler,” the coach said. “We didn’t get enough from our top guys [though]. We need more from them.”
In the Ice goal, Matt Berlin and Duncan McGovern have traded starts recently and performed well enough. This year, Berlin has a 3.49 goals against average and a 0.892 save percentage, while McGovern has a 3.19 goals against average and a 0.891 save percentage.
In addition to their normal roster, the Ice could also add 15-year-old forward Connor McClennon to the fold. Recalled on Tuesday, the team’s second overall pick at the this summer’s WHL Bantam Draft was a healthy scratch against the Blades.
McClennon has 67 points in 31 games this season, playing for Northern Alberta X-Treme Prep of the CSSHL.
Following their game against the Americans, Kootenay has a home-and-home against the Lethbridge Hurricanes that starts Saturday night on the road. The Rebels, meanwhile have two games this weekend, meaning that if the Ice can pick up at least a pair of wins, they can guarantee keeping their spot in the standings for the time being.
Puck drop for Friday’s game is at 7 p.m. MST.