For Jagger Dirk, there’s no place like home.
He may not be heading through Penticton, but it will be close enough.
The Kootenay Ice are heading through the B.C. Division in a five-game road trip, and will swing through the Okanagan where the overage defenceman grew up.
Due to scheduling issues, the Ice and B.C. Division teams alternate travel, as Kootenay heads on the road once every two years, while the opposition comes up to Cranbrook on alternating seasons.
This will be his third and final trip of his WHL career going back through his stomping grounds.
“Being 20 and the last time I’m able to go through that B.C. road trip, it’s going to mean a lot to me,” said Dirk, following a 5-1 loss to the Oil Kings last Saturday night at Western Financial Place, “because I started my WHL career in Vancouver five years ago, so it’s going to be bittersweet.”
Entering his fifth season of his career, Dirk has developed to be a staple on the back end with an offensive touch, and, like his jersey number, is currently fifth in team scoring with three goals and 15 assists.
Dirk began his junior career in the BCHL, playing with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, before being called up to the Ice full time, starting with his first career WHL game against the Giants on Dec. 2, 2009—a 6-2 win for Kootenay.
“16 [years old], came in and played Vancouver where my dad played his Canucks career, it’s pretty special,” continued Dirk. “Hopefully we end it the right way, with a sweep, that’d be nice. We’re definitely capable of doing it if we play the right way.”
So far, the road trip hasn’t gone favourably for the Ice.
The team dropped a 3-0 decision to the Royals in Victoria, and despite putting in a better effort in Vancouver, the Giants stole a 3-2 victory on some solid goaltending.
The Ice will take on the Kamloops Blazers on Friday, which are dwelling in the basement of the Western Conference but that’s no excuse to take them lightly.
It will be a reunion for the two teams that consummated a trade earlier in the season that sent former Ice players Collin Shirley, Matt Thomas and draft picks to Kamloops in exchange for Landon Cross and Tim Bozon.
Ice assistant coach Jay Henderson is under no illusions that they have their work cut out for themselves.
“It’s going to be some tough games still coming up, and it’d be nice to come out ahead on this trip with three wins, three opportunities to play,” he said, after Wednesday’s loss in Vancouver. “But I thought tonight’s performance was much better, it was just about capitalizing and we didn’t do that, but the effort was there, for sure.”
While Kamloops is struggling, Kelowna is on the opposite end of the spectrum, sitting in second place in the Western Conference and on top of the B.C. Division.
With Cranbrook-born head coach Ryan Huska leading from the bench, the Rockets have only one loss in 14 games. Four Rockets players are property of NHL teams that were picked up in the 2013 draft.
Both games should have some familiar faces in the stands cheering for Dirk.
“I know lots of friends and family are going to come to the Kamloops-Kelowna games, so I’m excited to see them,” said Dirk. “I haven’t seen them in a while, but I’ve obviously got to concentrate on the game when it’s game time.”