Kootenay Ice forward Jaedon Descheneau (right) battles with Calgary Hitmen forward Taylor Sanheim (left). Descheneau and the Ice have secured the first wild-card seed in the Eastern Conference

Kootenay Ice forward Jaedon Descheneau (right) battles with Calgary Hitmen forward Taylor Sanheim (left). Descheneau and the Ice have secured the first wild-card seed in the Eastern Conference

In the balance

First-round fate in the air for Kootenay Ice & Calgary Hitmen with home-&-home on tap to close out WHL regular season

The Kootenay Ice head into the final weekend of the WHL regular season with a four-game winning streak on the line and though nothing they can do will impact their final standing, they have a hand to play in determining their first-round playoff opponent.

With back-to-back games against a Calgary squad battling for a Central Division title, the Kootenay Ice have an opportunity to squash the Hitmen’s aspirations.

“They’re huge. Obviously Calgary is trying to finish first and it’s huge for us because they could potentially be a first-round opponent,” said Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill. “You want to make sure you’re trying to establish the tone in your building. We really just have to worry about ourselves and make sure we’re consistent because when you’re not that way — if you take these two games for granted or take them lightly — bad things happen, whether it’s habits, or injury or whatnot. You have to be on your game. [You play] 72 games for a reason.”

With Wednesday’s 6-3 victory over the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the Ice locked in the first wild-card seed in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, ensuring they will face the Central Division champion in the first round of the WHL playoffs.

That race is of the two-horse variety heading into the final weekend of the WHL regular season.

As it stands, the Calgary Hitmen (43-22-1-4) hold a one-point edge on the Medicine Hat Tigers (43-23-2-2) for the Central Division crown.

While the Hitmen close the regular season against the Ice (37-29-1-3) this weekend, the Tigers play back-to-back games against the Saskatoon Blades (19-47-2-2) to wrap up their 72-game ledger.

A pair of victories over the Ice would serve to guarantee the Hitmen of a Central Division title. Anything less than that and the Tigers have an opportunity to knock the crown from the head of their northern neighbour.

Through five games head-to-head with the Hitmen this season, the Ice are 3-2-0-0, having won three consecutive contests over their Central Division rivals from Calgary. The most recent tilt saw the Ice edge the Hitmen 4-3 at the Scotiabank Saddledome Dec. 28.

It’s safe enough to say the Ice won’t be gift-wrapping two victories for the Calgary Hitmen this weekend.

Heading down the stretch, McGill expressed a desire for more consistency from his group. After Wednesday’s win over the Hurricanes, the Kootenay bench boss believes his group is close.

“We’re almost there,” McGill said. “We’ve just got a few tweaks to work on with some individuals.”

The Ice took Thursday away from the rink following Wednesday’s victory. They return to Western Financial Place for Friday’s final regular-season home game with the Hitmen in town to join the part.

Speaking of parties, the Kootenay Ice will honour its outstanding group during the annual team awards ceremony prior to puck drop Friday night.

Award presentations are set to begin at 7 p.m. at Western Financial Place with puck to immediately follow.

The Ice and Hitmen wrap up the WHL regular season Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. in Calgary.

Video highlights: Kootenay Ice 4 at Calgary Hitmen 3 (Dec. 28):