It’s no secret the 2015-16 Western Hockey League campaign has been a tough one for the Kootenay Ice, but home is where the most success has come.
With only eight wins in the record books so far this season, six have come in the friendly and familiar confines of Cranbrook’s Western Financial Place.
Tuesday night, the Ice (8-38-4-0) welcome the Edmonton Oil Kings (21-23-6-1) to Western Financial Place for the beginning of a season-long, five-game home stand.
“I always like playing at home,” said Tanner Lishchynsky, captain of the Kootenay Ice, Monday afternoon. “It’s always a good feeling to play in front of our crowd. We’re excited to play these next five games at home and hopefully we can get something going here.”
Though Lishchynsky and the Ice will spend the next 11 days in the comforts of home, the tests won’t come easy as the young squad tries to establish some positivity.
After Tuesday’s outing with the Oil Kings, the Ice face a pair of division rivals, both entrenched in a fierce fight for top spot in the Central.
Friday, the second-place Red Deer Rebels (32-16-1-2) provide the opponent, before the WHL’s top-ranked Lethbridge Hurricanes (36-14-0-0) blow into town from across the Alberta border.
Following that, fans can look forward to a pair of U.S. Division opponents trekking north of the border, as the Tri-City Americans (22-25-2-0) visit Cranbrook Feb. 10, before the Spokane Chiefs (24-20-3-2) return for another engagement.
While it’s easy to look forward to extended time at home, the focus remains one game at a time for the rookie-laden Ice, meaning energy is being aimed solely on Tuesday’s tilt with the Oil Kings.
“Edmonton, you look at the way they play, I like their team,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, following Sunday’s loss. “They typically don’t score a lot of goals, but they’re tough to score on. Their guys are very committed and disciplined with the type of game they need to play as a team to win.
“We’ve got some guys who love to get going offensively and take chances. I’m all for it, but you need to commit to playing on the other side of the puck. Sometimes that’s not fun, but it’s what’s required to win hockey games and something we have to start to really understand. I think there needs to start to be some consequences for those of us who don’t get that.”
As it stands, the Oil Kings holster the 10th-ranked offense in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, having scored 139 goals through 51 games (2.73 goals for per game). On the other side of the puck, Edmonton’s defense is tied for fifth in the conference, with 158 goals against (3.10 goals against per game).
In both categories, the Ice remain last in both the conference and league, having scored 104 goals in 50 games (2.08 goals for per game) and surrendered 219 goals (4.38 goals against per game).
Tuesday marks the Oil Kings’ first visit to Cranbrook in 2015-16. The two teams have already met three times this season, with the Ice claiming a 5-4 overtime victory (Oct. 26) before coming up short in the following contests.
The most recent gathering between Ice and Oil Kings is fresh in the air.
Sunday afternoon at Rexall Place, the Ice jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first period of play, before six unanswered goals by the hosts sent the visitors back to their bus with a bitter taste in their mouths and a 6-2 loss marked into the record book.
“It’s never a good feeling when they score six goals like that,” said Lishchynsky, who played the 150th game of his WHL career Friday at Red Deer. “It should fire us up for this next game here. We never want that to happen again, so hopefully we can give them a better run here.
“They’ve done good in the past few years here, so you know they’re always going to have a good structured game. We’ve got to find ways to out work it and exploit their tendencies.”
Tuesday marks the fourth of six regular-season meetings between the Ice and Oil Kings. The two teams will round out the season series Friday, Feb. 26, and Tues., March 15, in Cranbrook.
The Ice are expected to once again be without the services of right winger Austin Gray (concussion). The rookie forward suffered the injury two weeks ago and has been out since then.
Monday afternoon, his status was upgraded from week-to-week to day-to-day.
Also missing for the Ice is right winger Jaedon Descheneau (shoulder surgery) who remains out indefinitely.
Expected to return to the lineup for coach Pierce is defenceman Troy Murray. Sunday, the 18-year-old native of White City, Sask., served the final night of a two-game suspension for checking to the head incurred Sat., Jan. 23, at Spokane.
Puck drop between the Ice and Oil Kings is slated for 7 p.m. on 2-for-1 Tuesday at Western Financial Place.
Notes: There are a number of Kootenay Ice in line to reach personal career milestones over this next home stretch… RW Zak Zborosky (20-18-38), who became the first Ice to hit the 20-goal plateau this season with his first-period goal at Edmonton, is within one point of 100 for his WHL career… G Wyatt Hoflin (6-28-1) is within two games of 150 career appearances… C Vince Loschiavo (3-5-8) is within one game of 100 career WHL contests…