Cranbrook is a long way from home for Jon Martin, but heading into Brandon for a pair of games was close enough for the Manitoban, who hails from Winnipeg.
“It was great,” said Martin. “Got to see a lot of the family and cousins so it was really good to have that support out there.”
Martin had a banner night on Saturday in front of his almost-home crowd, with friends and family in attendance, scoring twice, including the game winner in overtime that put the Kootenay Ice 4-3 over the Wheat Kings.
“I felt pretty good out there,” said Martin. “Just kept moving my feet and doing the simple things and it all paid out so it was good.”
His performance, plus his size and physical style of play, earned him a spot alongside Sam Reinhart and Jaedon Descheneau against the Swift Current Broncos on Monday.
“Definitely it’s a lot different, playing with them,” said Martin, who has spent most of the season playing with Zach McPhee and Austin Vetterl. “It’s going to take some getting used to and if I do end up staying on that line, I’ll have to get used to them in practice and start building up some chemistry with them.”
Kletzel noted that the Broncos are big up front, and the Kootenay coaches wanted to add some size to complement the duo of Reinhart and Descheneau.
“Swift Current has a bigger, physical team and I think we wanted to make sure that we have had a presence on each line and I think that’s where you’ve seen him join those two,” said Kletzel. “In the game before that, he had a good game, so he gets an opportunity to play with Reinhart and Descheneau and another chance to see some different lines and how they play together for the future.”
Descheneau ended up going on a tear on the score sheet and posted his first career WHL hat trick.
The final goal came on an empty net play while Swift Current was making an attempt at a late comeback.
“I didn’t think I was going to get it, because Philper had it at the start of the play and it got blocked,” said Descheneau. “It was an unselfish play by Cable in giving it to me there and so it felt good.”
With a 5-2 win over the Broncos, the Ice leapfrogged ahead of the Lethbridge Hurricanes and into eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
Considering their road record in the first half of the season, the Ice have certainly turned things around in the latter half, with eight wins in 14 road games.
“I think, especially on the road, you need every guy to be ready to go from the start of the game. I think we had some success, especially in Swift Current, we had that right off the bat,” said Kletzel. “We played a really complete game in Swift Current and had those guys doing the things they need to do.”
“When we were in Brandon, we were a little inconsistent with that. We had periods where we started well as a group, but we didn’t put the game together like we did in Swift Current.”
The Ice were hoping to add another player to the bus during the trip by picking up Troy Murray, their first-round draft selection in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft last year, however, the young defenceman was recovering from an injury.
Murray, the younger brother of Everett Silvertips star defenceman Ryan Murray, could have possibly seen some ice time, however, the intent was to introduce him to the Kootenay Ice’s atmosphere and culture, said Kletzel.
“I think it’s good to get him with the culture of the team, to kind of see what it’s like to be on the road and what that looks like and how you have to prepare,” said Kletzel. “Guys like Joey Leach, you want him to learn from a guy like that, to have some experience with him, with how Joey’s done a really good job with other guys that he’s played with.”
Now that the team has a hold on a playoff spot, the challenge becomes staying in the race. The Hurricanes are only one point behind, however, the Regina Pats and Moose Jaw Warriors trail by 10.
Both teams have 12 games remaining in the season, but Kootenay has four more victories in the win column. The ‘Canes are close in points because they picked up a bunch due to nine games that were lost in either overtime or a shootout.
“We just gotta keep doing what we’ve been doing since the [Christmas] break,” said Descheneau. “We were way out of the playoffs after the break, but now we’re back in and we gotta keep going, proceed forward and try to get into a higher position.”