The last time the Kootenay Ice faced the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the outing wasn’t exactly to the liking of Luke Pierce, as his team was outworked in a 6-1 loss at Cranbrook’s Memorial Arena.
For those players remaining on the Ice roster, 31 to be precise, Thursday night represents an opportunity for redemption and to display what’s been learned in the nine days and three games since their WHL pre-season opener.
The Ice face the Hurricanes Thursday at 7 p.m. in the opening game of the WHL Thunder Challenge in Crowsnest Pass, Alta.
“It’s going to sound like a broken record, but work ethic is number one,” said Pierce, head coach of the Ice, Wednesday afternoon prior to practice at Western Financial Place. “Beyond that, we’ve got to start seeing some thought process in the game plan. We’ve gone over a lot of structure and things like that, so we want to see who’s picking up and buying into what we’re selling them. At the end of the day, we’ll find the hardest-working guys that are going to think the most and put a team together.
“Lethbridge obviously showed that they had a lot more structure in their game. They had already played and they had been together a little longer than we had. That’s to be expected. Now that excuse is out of the way and we’ve got use our structure properly. It’s going to come down to compete level for us.”
With 16 forwards still on the roster, there’s plenty to be decided up front as the end of pre-season draws near.
When it comes to thinking the game, Pierce has been impressed with the showings of a couple 1998s — Connor Barley and Drew Warkentine — as they continue to compete for full-time roles with the club.
“Both show potential to be real high-IQ players,” Pierce said. “They both think the game well. Drew, in the middle especially, shows a lot of confidence and poise on both sides of the puck. Connor, his best flashes have come with some of his puck decisions and creating some offense. For both of them, they have to try and display, as best they can, what attributes they’re going to bring to our team, which is that ability to make intelligent plays.”
Barley, a left-winger and native of St. Andrews, Man. — located approximately 50 kilometres north of Winnipeg — was a seventh-round selection of the Kootenay Ice (141st overall) at the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft.
The 5-foot-11, 166-pound Barley has collected himself a pair of assists through three pre-season games along with the shootout-ending tally in last Thursday’s 2-1 victory over the Tri-City Americans.
“I was really nervous going on the ice. I was a little shaky,” Barley said with a grin Wednesday afternoon, as he recalled his shootout opportunity. “I kind of saw an opening in the net, put it there and it managed to slip by the goalie.
“I’m just trying to play my game. That’s why I’m here. The skating, the physicality — that’s what’s going to open up a spot for me, so that’s what I have to bring to the team.”
Barley has a flair for the offensive, having registered 19 goals and 38 points in 43 games with the Winnipeg Midget ‘AAA’ Thrashers during the 2014-15 campaign.
Another prairie boy, Warkentine is a native of Prince Albert, having been drafted by the Ice ahead of Barley with the 89th overall selection in the fifth round of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft.
The 5-foot-11, 178-pound forward has tallied one goal through four pre-season games and managed to get himself into a scrap with a much older dance partner — 19-year-old Ryley Lindgren of the Hurricanes.
“I’m just doing whatever [coach Pierce] wants me to go out there and do,” Warkentine said. “If it’s to get some energy in the game and go out and hit somebody, or if it’s to make a play, I do what he asks me to do.”
A willing competitor, Warkentine wasn’t necessarily bargaining for a fight the last time the Ice faced the Hurricanes, but he found himself in a scrap towards the end of regulation regardless.
“I really don’t know [how it happened],” Warkentine said with a smile. “I got pushed on their goalie and he got up and wasn’t too happy. It kind of just happened.”
As for a re-engagement with the veteran Hurricanes forward, Warkentine isn’t so sure he’s going to be out for a rematch Thursday night in the Crowsnest Pass.
The younger brother of former WHL forward Miles Warkentine, Drew posted solid numbers with the Tisdale Midget ‘AAA’ Trojans last season, registering 36 goals and 66 points in 44 games.
While Warkentine knows he’s younger and has room to grow, it’s not lost on Pierce that both players have plenty of progress to make if they’re to establish themselves as full-time WHL regulars.
“Both players, at times, have shown really positive flashes and they’ve shown signs of struggling,” Pierce said. “It’s trying to even out the highs and lows and find a consistency in their game.”
The Ice host the Hurricanes Thursday before wrapping up the WHL pre-season Saturday night (7 p.m.) against the Calgary Hitmen in Crowsnest Pass, Alta.
Notes: Prior to puck drop Thursday night, there will be a moment of silence in remembrance of two-year-old Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette of Blairmore, Alta.… On the injury front, the Ice will be without D Dallas Hines (undisclosed; day to day) and D Tanner Lishchynsky (lower body; one to two weeks)… Ice F Jon Martin has returned to the club from the Vancouver Canucks after attending the team’s annual Young Stars Tournament in Penticton… Ice G Wyatt Hoflin is expected to start Thursday against Lethbridge…