Ice have tough schedule to close out season

Kootenay taking on the cream of the Eastern Conference crop before hitting the post-season.

There is one week left of the WHL regular season.

Kootenay will be closing it off with a quick midweek two-game road trip to Edmonton (Tuesday) and Red Deer (Wednesday) before capping it off with a home and home series with the Calgary Hitmen.

They officially clinched their 16th straight playoff spot on Friday night during a 5-2 win over the Medicine Hat Tigers, as the franchise currently has the longest active postseason streak in the WHL.

“It’s amazing,” said Ice defenceman Jagger Dirk. “I came in here when it was just at 11 and to go into 16—to pass the torch on for the next guys—it means a lot to me and I know it means a lot to Jeff [Chynoweth] and the organization upstairs.”

Kootenay got a boost in the forward ranks on the weekend with the addition of Jon Martin and Kyle O’Connor, who had been out to illness and injury, respectively.

“Definitely nice to have those two guys back up front,” said fellow forward Zach McPhee. “It added some more depth for sure, and coming in from the road after what happened with Tim [Bozon], being able to come back to get four points at home is pretty good.”

However, this is no time to coast into the playoffs.

The Ice, in fifth place (82 points), are desperately trying to catch the Tigers, who occupy fourth (88 points). In turn, the Swift Current Broncos, in sixth (79 points), are trying to improve their playoff seeding and could potentially leapfrog the Kootenay club.

Here’s the situation.

With four games left, the Ice play three games against two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference—Edmonton (Tuesday) and the series with Calgary.

Medicine Hat plays Edmonton on Wednesday, then wraps it up with a home and home series with the cellar-dwelling Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Swift Current plays the Saskatoon Blades and closes with a home and home series with the Moose Jaw Warriors. Both opponents for the Broncos are not in the playoff picture.

Needless to say, at first glance, the Ice have the toughest schedule.

Edmonton was last here in January for a pair of games, playing the Ice twice at Western Financial Place due to travel. Kootenay lost in a shootout, but picked up a 5-4 win in the following rematch.

Edmonton, which reigns on top of the Conference standings, has been a little inconsistent of late, splitting their last 10 games with five wins and five losses.

However, Edmonton is on top of the conference for a reason.

“They’re a very good team, they have a lot of talent,” said Dirk. “We got to shut down their top guys and they’re obviously going to try to do the same to us. It’s going to come down to puck management and who sticks to the game plan the best and executes [it].”

Following the Oil Kings affair on Tuesday, the Ice will head into Red Deer to challenge the Rebels. Goaltender Patrik Bartosak shut the door to give the Rebels a 4-0 win at Western Financial Place last Tuesday, a result that still stings for the Ice.

“Getting shut out in our home barn 4-0 is a little embarrassing, because we know we’re way better than that,” said Dirk. “So we have a little chip on our shoulder, we want to go in and get two points in their barn and get back at them.”