With the post-season stretch ramping up, the Kootenay Ice are battling for home-ice advantage, and will face one of their biggest obstacles on Wednesday night.
Currently sitting in fifth place, the Ice are five points shy of reaching fourth place, which is occupied by the Medicine Hat Tigers—the same team they will face off against.
Needless to say, it will be an important divisional matchup.
The Tigers have the upper hand in the regular season series, with three wins in four games. All those came in their home barn in Medicine Hat, while Kootenay’s lone win came off a 4-3 performance in Western Financial Place in January.
“It’s probably nice that it’s here,” said Ice forward Luke Philp. “We’ve struggled there a bit, for whatever reason it is.
“They’re a good team though, real fast and we’re going to have to play fast too, but we know what to expect from them, so we’re going to be ready.”
The Tigers have won seven of their last 10 games, while the Ice have been one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference, winning eight of their last 10.
Three of those wins came during a four-game road trip into Saskatchewan, where they beat Moose Jaw, and won a pair against the Wheat Kings, while losing to Regina.
“It was fun on the road, but we probably didn’t play our best hockey in Moose Jaw and in Brandon, I thought we could’ve played a lot better,” said Philp. “We got the wins, which was key, but we’re going to have to play better for these next games if we’re going to get more wins.”
The Tigers aren’t a team to be dismissed, especially when it’s led by Curtis Valk, who is riding the longest active point streak in the WHL at 18 games. Ice captain Sam Reinhart is one game behind him, riding a 17-game streak.
Valk leads his team in scoring, followed by line mates Trevor Cox and Cole Sanford.
“I think we got to be hard on those top three guys—Valk, Sanford and Cox,” said Philp. “They’ve been good, pretty much been putting up points against us every game.
“We’ve got to be hard on them off the get-go and make life hard for them.”