The 2014-15 WHL campaign has been an up-and-down affair for the Kootenay Ice. With a seven-game homestand on the horizon, the hope is the comforts of home cooking and familiar beds will help the team establish some consistency heading down the stretch.
“If we take care of ourselves off the ice, we should be fine physically and mentally,” said Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill Thursday afternoon. “We know how much the last part of the season means to get yourself ready and in the right frame of mind for playoffs.
“Anytime you’re at home and you’re in your own bed in your comfortable surroundings, it’s a bonus. It should be a little bit of an advantage.”
Following a 6-3 road loss to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the lowest-ranked team not only in the Central Division but also the entire WHL, the Kootenay Ice returned to Cranbrook and took Thursday away from practice in hopes of resting up with 22 games remaining on the slate.
Wednesday’s loss to Lethbridge represents the third defeat to a WHL team out of the playoff race so far in the month of January for the Ice. Earlier in January, the Ice dropped a pair of games to the Saskatoon Blades (6-4 Jan. 10 and 3-2 Jan. 17), another team out of the WHL post-season picture, allowing a total of six points to slip through their grasps with the WHL playoff race heating up.
“We, as a coaching staff take full responsibility in the preparation of our athletes whether it’s a first-place team or a last-place team [we are playing],” McGill said. “After that, it’s all about the commitment to execution and the ability to do it the right way regardless of who you’re playing.”
For the McGill and the Ice, the next opponent on the card comes in the form of the Regina Pats.
The last time the two teams met, Wyatt Hoflin was perfect as he stopped 34 shots to propel the Ice to a 1-0 victory Oct. 17.
Since then, the Pats have undergone a subtle makeover, shipping out the likes of Connor Gay, Kyle Burroughs, Dryden Hunt, Morgan Klimchuk and Brady Reagan. Despite the turnover of staff in Regina, McGill knows not to underestimate the second-place team in the WHL’s East Division.
“They’re extremely hard-working, their goaltending is excellent,” McGill said. “They’ve made a lot of changes but, at the same time, the foundation for their team is still the same. Their forwards play hard. They’re a very simple team. They put pucks behind you. They’re very versatile.”
While the Pats represent the first challenge on the seven-game homestand, Saturday’s test might prove to hold more weight in terms of determining what the Kootenay Ice are capable of as the WHL-leading Kelowna Rockets visit Western Financial Place.
“You don’t want to get ahead of yourself because we have an Eastern Conference matchup first,” McGill said. “But, as far as the Kelowna Rockets go, they’re obviously the best team in the league for a reason. They’ve got the complete package.
“When you have only eight losses, you know you’re a consistent hockey team that probably uses all four lines and does a good job defensively. We’re going to have our hands full, for sure. But, in saying that, it’s a good test for us to see how long we can mentally provide ourselves with a strong commitment to staying in the program.”
The Rockets roll into Cranbrook in the midst of a four-game road trip, having edged the Red Deer Rebels in overtime Jan. 27 before falling to the Edmonton Oil Kings in overtime Wednesday night.
On top of Saturday’s top-billed Kelowna Rockets, Western Financial Place will also be privy to the antics of the renowned Green Men, of Vancouver Canucks fandom fame.