Kootenay Ice forward Austin Vetterl battles in front of the Lethbridge crease Nov. 1. Vetterl and the Ice take their battle on the road this weekend with three games across the Pacific Northwest.

Long & winding road

The Kootenay Ice venture south to the Pacific Northwest for three games in three nights beginning Friday against the Portland Winterhawks

Taylor Rocca

It has been a while since the Kootenay Ice made the more-than 800 kilometre trek to the Pacific Northwest, but that’s where the team heads in hopes of building upon its recent road success.

“It’s a long ways to go, so that makes it difficult,” said Kootenay Ice alternate captain Austin Vetterl Wednesday prior to practice. “You’re not used to playing in those buildings. They’re not familiar and of course, those States teams are always good as well.”

The Ice remain 3-9-0-0 away from Western Financial Place, but head coach Ryan McGill is looking at a smaller, more recent sample size for his team’s road performance.

“It has been difficult away [from home]. But since Sam [Reinhart], [Tim Bozon] and everybody has been together in their right spots, we’ve won our last two road games in, for sure, one tough building in Medicine Hat,” McGill said referencing his team’s shutout of the Tigers and 4-2 defeat of Lethbridge (Nov. 15). “Going into the States isn’t easy. It’s a little different. We only play them once a year and we’re not used to that. I think what we have to do is we have to not worry about the other team. We have to worry about ourselves. I think our guys have done a good job of worrying about themselves the last six, seven, eight games.”

The Ice open the trip with a Friday-afternoon matinee against the surging Portland Winterhawks.

“They’re very skilled,” said Kootenay Ice forward Matt Alfaro Wednesday. “They have [Nic] Petan, [Chase] De Leo and guys like that. We’ve got to shut them down.”

Petan, a 2013 second-round selection of the Winnipeg Jets (43rd overall), is third in scoring for the Winterhawks with four goals and 25 points. De Leo, a 2014 fourth-round pick of the Jets (99th overall) is second in team scoring with 15 goals and 30 points.

After losing six consecutive games and digging a deep hole in the U.S. Division to open the regular season, the Winterhawks are 7-2-0-1 in their last 10 games, pulling back into the U.S. Division race.

Sound familiar?

After dropping seven consecutive games over the last two weeks of October, the Ice are 8-2-0-0 in their previous 10 outings as they battle back into the Central Division mix. On top of that, the Ice have only lost one game in the month of November, going 8-1-0-0.

Vetterl has experienced this kind of turnaround before and knows what the outcome was the last time this team went through it.

During the 2012-13 campaign, the Ice started the season 4-13-0-0, before pushing back to eventually finish 35-35-2-0 and in the WHL playoff picture. Vetterl arrived during the midst of that difficult start after he was acquired by the Ice from the Vancouver Giants.

“It’s special [to be a part of something like that],” Vetterl said. “And this year is special as well. From where we’ve come from at the start to now, all things are pointed in the right direction.

“Two years ago when I got here, everything was in disarray. I don’t think we were buying in. We started to buy in and we started to win. It’s the same this year. I don’t think we were buying in at the start of the year. Now we’ve all bought in, so I think that’s the biggest thing to preach to the young guys and everyone new here or old here. If we buy into the system and play our way, we’re going to win games.”

After a Saturday-evening date with the Seattle Thunderbirds (9-11-2-2), the Ice close out the Pacific Northwest swing with a Sunday evening outing in Everett against the U.S. Division-leading Silvertips (16-4-2-1).

“They’re one of the top teams out there,” Vetterl said of the Silvertips. “If we go out there and play our system, rely on each other and play as a group, we can beat anyone. We’ve got to prove that to a lot of people out there.”

In addition to buying into the system of head coach Ryan McGill, the Ice have started getting some additional secondary scoring from guys not named Reinhart, Bozon, Luke Philp or Jaedon Descheneau.

Sunday afternoon in a 7-3 win over the Moose Jaw Warriors, Alfaro centred the team’s third line, flanked by Jon Martin and Levi Cable. The trio combined for four goals in a third-period comeback victory.

“We know the top two lines are going to get points here and there,” Alfaro said Wednesday. “To really win games in the third [period] and close games, the third and fourth lines have to contribute a lot.

“We’ve had some chemistry. Last year we played a couple times together and it kind of just clicked again. We know where each other is going to be and we work hard.”

Alfaro chipped in with a goal and two assists, while Martin grabbed one goal and three helpers. Cable sent two pucks to the back of the net, earning one assist as well.

Notes: D Dylan Overdyk is out indefinitely after suffering a concussion Friday, Nov. 21 against the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Overdyk was hurt after being on the receiving end of a check from Hurricanes F Carter Folk. Folk since received a three-game suspension from the WHL for his hit…D Tanner Faith (upper body) is travelling with the team and expected to suit up this weekend. The Minnesota Wild prospect has missed all nine of the team’s November games after suffering the injury Oct. 31…

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