The mission remains the same for the Kootenay Ice. It’s simple and straightforward.
“We’ve got to get points,” said Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill. “It doesn’t matter how. We’ve just got to get points.”
On the heels of Tuesday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Medicine Hat Tigers, the Ice hit the Alberta highways once again this weekend, visiting the Red Deer Rebels Friday and Edmonton Oil Kings Saturday.
The WHL’s Central Division has become a muddy mess in recent weeks, with a mere six points separating four teams in the middle of the divisional pack.
The second-place Rebels hold 45 points, while the third-place Calgary Hitmen trail by two points. The surging Ice remain four points back of Red Deer and two points up on the fifth-place Edmonton Oil Kings.
“Red Deer is playing very well right now,” McGill said. “We’ve got to go in with the mindset that we’ve got to collect points on the road, especially within our division.”
The Rebels come into Friday’s tilt fresh off an extra-time loss Tuesday night as well. The Swift Current Broncos rolled into Red Deer, using overtime to earn a 4-3 victory over the Rebels.
Outside that most recent setback, the Rebels have been a tough team to beat in the competitive Central Division. Sitting in second place behind the Tigers, the Rebels are 6-3-0-1 in their past 10 outings.
The Ice hope to receive a boost on the blue line as Dylan Overdyk (concussion) is close to returning.
The rookie rearguard has been sidelined since Nov. 21, but was scheduled to skate with the team Thursday.Overdyk’s showing Thursday will determine his status for Friday’s game in Red Deer.
In addition to Overdyk’s absence, the Ice have also been without defencemen Rinat Valiev (World Junior Championship, Russia) and Tanner Faith (upper body, indefinite) in recent weeks.
That reality presented opportunity for 19-year-old affiliate player Tanner Lishchynsky, who joined the Ice Dec. 27. The native of Saskatoon has registered one assist in three games since his arrival after posting 18 points in 29 games with the Flin Flon Bombers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) this season.
“He’s been a consistent player for us,” McGill said of Lishchynsky. “He took a cross-checking penalty in the third period [Tuesday in Medicine Hat] that I think was just a result, more so, of the league he just played in [the SJHL] and not so much a result of not being a good player.
“He’s been a good player for us. He’s been consistent. He’s moved the puck well. He’s competitive.”
While the news on Overdyk and Lishchynsky is of the positive nature, the situation is not so rosy in regards to Faith.
Prior to Christmas, it was believed the veteran defenceman would return to action sometime around the new year. With Faith still on the shelf and his status downgraded from “week-to-week” to “indefinite,” there are more questions than answers.
According to McGill, Faith won’t be available anytime soon as he discusses rehabilitation options with his NHL club, the Minnesota Wild. The Wild used a fifth-round pick (139th overall) at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft to select Faith.
Puck drop between the Ice and Rebels is slated for 7 p.m.