Matt Alfaro is more accustomed to politely and pleasantly conversing with referees and linesmen from the ice surface.
But as the Kootenay Ice closed a four-game road trip in Saskatchewan this past weekend, the 6-foot-2, 194-pound pivot traded his skates and stick for a clipboard and neck tie, joining head coach Luke Pierce and assistant coach Gordon Burnett behind the team bench.
The 19-year-old native of Calgary was knocked out of action with an upper-body injury Wednesday in a 5-3 loss to the Regina Pats but didn’t let the setback completely remove him from the remaining two games of his team’s road trip.
The only stipulation was that he had to leave verbalizing displeasure with the officials to the man in charge.
“I left that to Luke [Pierce],” Alfaro said with a grin prior to practice at Western Financial Place Monday afternoon. “I’m known to do that on the ice, but I stood back from that on the bench.
“It was pretty fun. It was an interesting experience being behind the scenes, seeing what goes on in the coaches’ room, listening to what they have to say and watching the video.”
This isn’t the first time the Ice have added to the team coaching staff midseason by repurposing a player. Most recently, former defenceman Tanner Faith joined Ryan McGill and Jay Henderson behind the bench after sustaining a shoulder injury last season.
“We want to give him a different viewpoint of the game,” Pierce said prior to having Alfaro join him behind the bench. “He’s a big part of our hockey team, plays in a lot of different situations and I think he will maybe get a new appreciation for what’s happening in the game by standing on the bench.”
Alfaro has shown immense growth in his third Western Hockey League season, stepping into a bigger role and posting career highs in goals (19), assists (22) and points (41) through 62 games.
Having taken the extra responsibility in stride, Alfaro did the exact same when provided the opportunity to stand behind the bench and help with the proceedings Friday in Prince Albert and Saturday in Saskatoon.
“You see more of the ice, you see how fast it is,” Alfaro said. “I’ve played in a lot of games, so I’m pretty experienced, but this was a good experience for me to learn more things and learn from Luke on the bench.
“I just tried to keep it light, keep it positive. In Saskatoon, we were going into the third [period] and it was close, so I was just trying to keep the boys up, keep them going and try encourage them to get some goals.”
Having seen a doctor upon returning to Cranbrook, Alfaro is awaiting further results that will help determine when he gets to return to his regular role as a player. As it stands, he’s listed out week to week with an upper-body injury and only six games remaining in the WHL regular season.
“I’m just trying to stay focused,” Alfaro said. “We’ve only got six more games here, so keep it light, don’t take anything too seriously… I’ve just got to be even keel.
“It’s frustrating [not being able to play]. When you’re sitting on the bench as a player and you see your team struggling, you want your name to be called. You want to go back out. This year, I’ve been leaned on by my teammates to provide that spark. Standing behind the bench not being able to do that was really frustrating, so I do want to get back on the ice.”
With the Kootenay Ice long eliminated from a playoff spot, the focus has shifted to next season and with Alfaro set to be a core part of the leadership group come 2016-17, Pierce acknowledged that there will be no rushing the gritty forward back into action should there be any associated risk.
Next up for the Kootenay Ice (10-50-6-0) is a Tuesday meeting with the Central Division-leading Lethbridge Hurricanes (43-21-1-1).
The last time the two division rivals got together, the Ice put forth arguably their most complete, 60-minute effort of the season in a 2-0 shutout victory Feb. 6 at Western Financial Place.
With the Red Deer Rebels (41-22-1-2) storming up the standings and only three points back of the Hurricanes for the division lead, the Ice are presented with an opportunity to put a damper on the division hopes for Lethbridge.
Puck drop between the Ice and Hurricanes is slated for 7 p.m. on 2-for-1 Tuesday at Western Financial Place.