For the 15th consecutive season, the Kootenay Ice are into the playoffs.
Though it didn’t seem likely before the Christmas break, the team rallied in the second half and climbed out of the Eastern Conference basement to nab the eighth seed for the post season.
The team’s remarkable play, led by the steady hand of head coach Ryan McGill, was enough to get the Ice bench boss the nod for the Eastern Conference Coach of the Year, as the WHL announced conference nominees for league awards on Wednesday.
Kootenay Ice sniper Sam Reinhart, who accumulated 85 points with 35 goals and 50 assists, was named to the second All-Star team, alongside Cody Sylvester (Hitmen) and Hunter Shinkaruk (Tigers). Alex Roach (Hitmen) and Keegan Lowe (Oil Kings) joined up on the blue line, while Laurent Brossoit (Oil Kings) got the goaltending nod.
However, the team is focusing on a bigger task at hand, namely their first-round opponents in the Oil Kings, which begins on Friday at Rexall Place in Edmonton.
The two teams met each other six times over the regular season, splitting the record with three wins apiece. Both teams also recorded a shutout victory.
Puck management is the mantra for the Kootenay squad as they prepare to face the top-seeded Oil Kings.
“For us, we have to manage the puck properly,” said Ice head coach Ryan McGill. “We have to make sure we’re very careful with the puck, but I don’t want to use the word careful, you just have to make sure that we’re making the right decisions with the puck because of how active their defence is in their transition game, how good their powerplay is, how good their team game is.
“They come at you in waves, so if we manage the puck properly and get to positions properly, we want to make sure we’re good offensively, but at the same time, we want to make sure we’re good defensively.”
The Oil Kings were two goals outside of leading the Eastern Conference in overall team scoring—second only to the Saskatoon Blades.
Michael St. Croix and Dylan Wruck both topped out near the century mark for points, while threats also come from Henrik Samuelsson and sophomore Curtis Lazar.
To put it in perspective, the Oil Kings have nine NHL-drafted players on the team—four of them from their parent club, the Oilers.
However, if the regular season record between the two clubs is any indication, it should still be a tight series.
Ice rookie Collin Shirley is looking forward to his first post-season run in his inaugural year in the WHL.
Despite his youth, Shirley has managed to play his way onto the front line alongside Sam Reinhart and Jaedon Descheneau for a large chunk of the season.
“I’m really excited, obviously it’s something I’ve never been a part of yet, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity and what we have here,” said Shirley.
The young forward said the team isn’t looking to switch up anything major going into the series, but rather needs to focus on the intricate details of the game to be successful.
“For the last little while, since after Christmas, we’ve just been playing great hockey,” said Shirley, “and I think that just comes from doing the little things, paying attention to detail and just filling roles that McGill asks you to do—that’s what you got to do—so I think everyone’s doing that, everyone’s starting to buy in and that’s key for us.”
ICE NOTES: The Regina Pats won the lottery for the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, meaning they move up from the fourth to the second overall pick. The Vancouver Giants, which had the poorest record in the league, retain the first overall selection. Kootenay is in line for the ninth overall pick.