Life on the road is never easy for a junior hockey player and no one in the Kootenay Ice dressing room expected a season-long, five-game road trip through the B.C. Division was going to be quite as sweet as a coastal breeze.
“With it being our first really long road trip of the year, a lot of the young guys haven’t experienced this before,” said sophomore winger Austin Wellsby, prior to leaving Cranbrook earlier this week. “We’re just going to have to do our best to show them how it goes and hopefully we can play well on the road.”
To this point, the Ice have been handed back-to-back losses in the Okanagan/Interior region, falling to the Kamloops Blazers 5-1 Tuesday before dropping a 4-1 decision to the WHL-leading Kelowna Rockets Wednesday.
With the Pacific Ocean in sight, the Ice (6-21-2-0) hope to begin salvaging this season-long trek west when they visit the Vancouver Giants (7-16-2-2) Friday at Pacific Coliseum.
“Really at this point we need [a win],” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice. “You’ve got to imagine Vancouver is thinking the exact same thing. They’re looking at us coming in and they’re going to be fired up ready to go because they feel it’s a must-win game.”
While the pressure is beginning to weigh heavily on a Kootenay Ice club falling further and further behind in the WHL standings, there might be a little added pressure on Wellsby Friday night.
A native of Chilliwack, B.C., Friday’s outing will mark the first opportunity for the 6-foot-3, 184-pound forward to suit up in front of friends and family since he joined the Ice last season.
“It’s definitely really exciting,” Wellsby said in anticipation of Friday’s outing. “I haven’t really played in front of a lot of family and friends. They’ve haven’t really seen me play in a while, so it will be exciting to make my first trip to [the Lower Mainland] and see all them.
“It’s pretty awesome to have their support behind me.”
The 18-year-old got off to a quick start this season, tallying two goals and six points through his team’s first 17 games. The month of November was a bit chillier for the former fourth-round bantam draft pick (76th overall, 2012) as he managed only one goal.
Perhaps a trip home will light a fire under Wellsby, who has seen an increased role this season under coach Pierce.
As a rookie, Wellsby skated in 35 games, tallying one goal, under then head coach Ryan McGill, and didn’t see a ton of ice time when he was in the lineup.
This season has been different, as Wellsby found himself lining up on the top line with captain Luke Philp early in the proceedings.
Wellsby has already skated in 29 games this season, setting new career marks in all major statistical categories with three goals, four assists and seven points.
With that being said, the second-year forward hasn’t scored since Nov. 7 at Lethbridge and with his team starving for offense, there’s no better time than a hometown show for Wellsby to find the back of the net once again.
On the flip side of the puck, the Giants enter Friday’s match winners of two consecutive games, including Wednesday’s 6-0 shutout of another Central Division club — the Medicine Hat Tigers.
The success for the Giants is recent as Vancouver sits in last place in both the B.C. Division and the Western Conference.
With that in mind, Friday might be provide the best opportunity for the Ice to get back into the win column and snap a five-game losing streak.
“I just want to see our work and our consistency and our desire be better,” Pierce said. “I think wins will come from that, but you’ve got to start small.
“It’s always a challenge just to try and get better. That’s the only thing you can look forward to. I don’t know if we can get much worse than [Wednesday’s 4-1 loss in Kelowna]. That was real tough to take.
“Getting better isn’t an easy thing. It takes a ton of work and a ton of effort. You should look forward to the opportunity to work your butt off to become a better hockey player. It’s the greatest challenge there is, but it’s a fun one.”
Puck drop between the Ice and Giants is slated for 8:30 p.m. (Mountain).
From there, the Ice jump a boat and head for Vancouver Island where they will battle the Victoria Royals (18-8-1-1) Saturday evening.