The Kootenay Ice face a tough test this weekend when they rattle off three games in three nights, starting with their only road game of the month in Red Deer on Friday.
The Ice will hit the road right after and head home to face the Kamloops Blazers on Saturday along with a rematch with the Rebels on Sunday.
It’s the first action for the Ice since stringing together two wins last weekend against the Saskatoon Blades and the Edmonton Oil Kings.
While both opponents had been struggling of late, it was a bit of a symbolic victory for the Ice, as the Blades are hosting the Memorial Cup this year, while the Oil Kings are the defending WHL champions.
Both games were a big turnaround for Kootenay, which has struggled defensively to start the season, however, the difference was stark during their last two wins.
That defence also gave a boost to goaltender Mackenzie Skapski, who did some great work against the Blades, along with earning his first-career shutout against Edmonton.
“The reason why we got the two wins, first and foremost, is we’re improving in every area,” said Ice head coach Ryan McGill. “…In the second breath, I thought our special teams were real good on the weekend, other than that [Edmonton] game, for the power play.
“Our goaltending seemed to get more consistent, which was big for us and I thought we just played a better team game on both sides of the puck, defensively and offensively.”
One area of note for McGill was the power play against the Oil Kings, as the Ice couldn’t capitalize in eight separate opportunities.
However, Edmonton currently has the top-ranked penalty kill in the WHL, while Kootenay’s power play is ranked 15th overall, at 18.9 per cent.
McGill chalked up the power play’s failure to a good penalty killing effort by the Oil Kings, while the Ice didn’t “follow the plan.”
It’s something the team has been working on in practice this last week.
“The biggest thing for us on the power play is you have to establish a shot mentality, number one,” said McGill. “Number two, you got to move the puck, and when you move the puck, you got to move yourself so that if you’re moving the puck and you’re not standing still, you’re trying to create holes in their defence and your making the other team think.”
An effective power play is a handy weapon, especially since the Ice are facing the WHL’s hottest team on Saturday when the Kamloops Blazers come to town.
The Blazers are undefeated in regulation time, with a 10-0-0-1 record—their best start in franchise history.
The Twitterverse around the WHL has exploded, with fans and media dubbing the month ‘Liptober’, as Blazers sniper JC Lipton has 23 points in eight games, and leads the league with 27.
The Rebels, in turn, are coming off a 7-5 loss to the Blazers at home, before hosting the Ice on Friday evening.
Red Deer is third in the Central Division and is hoping to halt a two-game losing slide.