When the Kootenay Ice cruised to a 6-3 victory over the Central Division-leading Medicine Hat Tigers Wednesday night, they did it with a brand-new coaching tandem behind the bench.
As the Ice ready for the Moose Jaw Warriors Friday night, they prepare with head coach Ryan McGill out of action, assistant coach Jay Henderson taking the lead and injured defenceman Tanner Faith exploring a new role within the world of junior hockey.
McGill was absent from practice Thursday afternoon as he continues to nurse what has been officially labelled by the organization as an upper-body injury. He remains a game-time decision for Friday’s tilt with the Warriors.
The long-time Ice bench boss missed his first game of the season in Wednesday’s win over the Tigers. While Henderson took over the bench, he was helped out by a familiar face.
Faith, who recently underwent season-ending shoulder surgery, exchanged his sweater and stick for a peacoat and clipboard as he joined Henderson behind the bench as an interim assistant coach.
The 19-year-old native of Wilcox, Sask., seems to be taking to his new role rather quickly as he provided his coaching assessment in advance of Friday’s date with the Warriors.
“We need to be physical, we need to move the puck well and keep getting pucks to the net,” Faith said. “[Zach] Sawchenko is a good goalie. We can capitalize off some nice rebounds.”
Though he is expected to miss the next four to six months, Faith is expected to make a full recovery.
According to Kootenay Ice general manager Jeff Chynoweth, this isn’t the first time the organization has put a player behind the bench in a coaching capacity.
“I said to [Faith] during pre-game [Wednesday], ‘Get ready. You’ll be behind the bench,’ and he thought I was kidding,” Chynoweth said with a laugh Thursday afternoon. “I said, ‘No. You’re going behind the bench.’
“He’s had a tough year with the injury, so it was nice to have him see the game from a different perspective.
“It’s tough to feel a part of the team when you’ve had as many injuries as he’s had. That’s human nature.”
During the team’s run to its third WHL championship in 2011, defenceman Luke Paulsen had a stint on the bench during the first round of playoffs against the Moose Jaw Warriors.
That same year, forward Drew Czerwonka donned his suit and tie after being sidelined with injury, stepping behind the bench during the second round of the WHL playoffs against the Saskatoon Blades.
Interestingly enough, with McGill’s status in the air, the Kootenay Ice face those same Warriors and Blades this weekend. After Friday’s contest with the Warriors, the Saskatoon Blades roll into town for a Sunday-evening affair at Western Financial Place.
Despite three consecutive losses to the top two teams in the WHL — the Kelowna Rockets and the Brandon Wheat Kings — veteran forward Levi Cable believes his team is working in the right direction, evidenced by Wednesday’s win over the Tigers.
“We’ve got to know that if we play our game we can do good against any team,” Cable said. “If we come and play Moose Jaw like [we played Medicine Hat], I think we can do well against them.”
Friday marks the fourth meeting of the season between the Ice and Warriors.
The season series has been a matter of home-ice advantage to this point, with the Warriors earning two victories in Moose Jaw (3-1, Oct. 9 and 4-3, Jan. 14) and the Ice claiming a win in Cranbrook (7-3, Nov. 23).
Wild-card implications weigh heavily on Friday’s game. Heading into the weekend, the Ice hold the first wild-card slot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference — one point ahead of the Edmonton Oil Kings, who own the second and final wild-card seed.
The Warriors remain in the race, though have fallen behind the Prince Albert Raiders this past week. The Raiders are eight points back of the Oil Kings, while the Warriors sit 10 points back for the final wild-card position.
With less than 20 games remaining on the WHL regular-season schedule, the time to move is now.
Puck drop Friday night is slated for 7 p.m. at Western Financial Place.