Mixing the right chemistry

Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill still tweaking line combinations.

Finding chemistry between players can like prospecting for gold.

It can take time, but eventually, you may get lucky and strike it rich.

The Kootenay Ice discovered that last year, pairing up Jaedon Descheneau and Sam Reinhart, and the two have become the offensive backbone of the team.

When one scores, the other usually assists, and vice versa.

Their chemistry has really shown since the beginning of the season, as the two have piled on the points on the scoresheet. In eight games, Reinhart has seven goals and 12 assists, while Descheneau has seven goals and eight assists.

However, it’s not fair to say that they alone are providing offensive production.

Like last year, Levi Cable and Luke Philp were paired up with graduate Brock Montgomery and provided some solid offensive production on their own right, as Philp, the team rookie of the year, scored 20 goals while Cable added 14, despite missing five games at the end of the season.

Philp and Cable are reunited again this season, and they have 11 points combined in 8 games.

Plus, scoring has come in from other areas of the roster, which is always an encouraging sign.

When it comes to finding chemistry between players, head coach Ryan McGill first looks for pairs before searching for a third player to complete the line.

“You want to find pairs, for sure,” said McGill, “and then, within those pairs that find good chemistry, you have to find that third person that can bring something else to the table—an intangible, so to speak—where somebody that can maybe get on the forecheck and get that first hit and turn that puck over, or somebody that has lots of speed through the neutral zone to complement the pairs that have the real good chemistry.”

It’s tough to read too much into lines combinations, because it can change on a nightly basis if someone is fired up and having a good game, McGill added.

“On some nights, it might be different in certain situations, because somebody’s really got a game going and you want to make sure you give that person every opportunity to help someone else out, too,” McGill said. “So you’ll find that I keep a lot of pairs together, and then move guys in and out on that one spot.”

Cable played with Reinhart and Descheneau for a bit, before reuniting with Philp. Zach Zborosky and Matt Alfaro have both rotated in and out as the third man with Reinhart and Descheneau.

“Obviously we’d love the opportunity that if we had four lines that could stay together the whole time and develop a huge amount of chemistry, that’d be great for us, it’s just in the game of hockey, it’s not always entirely possible,” said McGill.

Combinations can get tricky, too, when injuries come into play.

Jeff Hubic, who uses his size to play a physical role up front, was sent back down to defence in Lethbridge to add an extra body to the defensive corps, which is missing Tanner Faith and Landon Peel to injury.

Hunting the Tigers

Kootenay heads into Medicie Hat on Saturday to take on the Tigers, which sit on top of the Eastern Conference and have only one regulation loss so far in the early season.

Medicine Hat is unbeaten in regulation over the last four games, losing only to the Thunderbirds in an overtime decision on home ice.

The Tigers benefited from the return on team captain Hunter Shinkaruk who made a strong challenge to stick with the Vancouver Canucks, however, the NHL squad made the decision to send their first-rounder back to major-junior.

In three games back with the Tigers, Shinkaruk has six points with 3 goes and 3 assists.

Despite Shinkaruk’s absence while up in the pros, the Tigers have been able to score by committee with Curtis Valk, Cole Sanford, Trevor Cox and Logan McVeigh.

The Tabbies also acquired crease guardian Daniel Wapple from the Moose Jaw Warriors, who is in a battle with Mark Langhammer for starting duties.

Shinkaruk and Reinhart are former teammates with Team Canada’s U18 squad two years ago, when the Canadians captured a bronze medal at the World Championships.

Pillaging the Raiders

After Saturday’s contest, the Ice head back home to host the Prince Albert Raiders, which are also off to a hot start, with six wins and two losses in eight games.

The Raiders bolstered their blueline with the return of Winnipeg Jets’ first rounder Josh Morrissey, who will quarterback the defence.

Up front, the team is led by German import Leon Dratsaitl, who is happily lighting the goal lamp as he begins his draft-year campaign, and rumours have it that he will go high up in the first round.

Like with the Tigers, it’s scoring by committee so far with Jayden Hart, Reid Gardiner and Dakota Conroy chipping in on the points race.

The team made a big deal in the offseason to acquire overage goaltender Cole Cheveldave from the Kamloops Blazers. Being that he came from Kamloops, the Ice haven’t had a chance to see him much over the last two years, but this will be the first of four meetings this season.

So far, the Raiders won their first five straight, then suffered a pair of losses before winning against the Giants in a shootout on Tuesday.

It will be the return of former Kootenay Ice coach Cory Clouston when the Raiders come to town. Clouston was an assistant to current bench boss Ryan McGill during his first tenure before taking over the top job for five years.

Clouston was recently overtaken by McGill as the winningest coach in Kootenay franchise history, however, he’ll be looking for a win in different colours behind the Prince Albert bench.