Kootenay starting to put it together

By Jeff Bromley
A six game road trip, four out of the six being wins, a possible nine of twelve points in solidifying their current second place in the Central
Division standings. If you could have asked Kootenay ICE Head Coach Ryan McGill for that result from the second longest road swing the
ICE would encounter this season, there is no doubt that he would’ve answered an emphatic answer in the positive.

Coming off a rather embarrassing 3-1 home loss to the Calgary Hitmen in which they managed only 14 shots in front of a sellout hometown
crowd before the swing into the Pacific Northwest and Central Alberta began, the road trip turned out to be perhaps the most crucial point of
the season for the ICE. A sub-par road trip and the club could’ve found itself in a dogfight for third in the conference standings with a
slumping Calgary Hitmen team and the red-hot Regina Pats. After the addition of the nine points garnered on the trip, the ICE find themselves
with somewhat of a cushion between themselves and a suddenly vulnerable Calgary club and enough of a cushion that Regina isn’t a threat
to their position, yet.

In what could be best described as just another cliche to pile upon the heap of hockey mannerisms, the sentence ‘we’ll get together on the
road trip and come together as a team’, seems to have actually applied here. Given that the two newest members of the club, Mike Lee and Eric
Bowen hadn’t yet found their role within the club the before they left, it seems that they may have found it now. Switching from spot front line
duty to more of checking, physical role that has been more effective of late. It is clear that combination of the veteran WHLers, if they are to
be kept together on a line with Colin Sinclair must keep up the work ethic of physical, grinding play if they are to be effective. Add to that the
recent play of the newest ICE rearguard Craig Weller, which is improving with every game and you begin to see a team that is finding its
identity.

The success from the road trip has to start and end with the blueline corps. It’s no secret that this club has had no trouble scoring all season
long, and they have the stats to prove it. The problem lied with keeping the puck out of their own net. The return of veteran Cole Fischer from
a wrist injury has helped coupled with the fact that defense has increased their success rate coming out of their own zone. Fewer costly
turnovers at their end of the ice was probably the biggest impact on the bottom line, namely wins.

Turning the road success into wins at the ‘Plex, including a huge ‘four point game’ against the Rebels on Wednesday will go along way in
Kootenay’s battle to stay within striking distance of the front-running Rebels.

McCarthy Pressure Mounting – Realistically, Kootenay ICE fans and management might not know the fate of Steve McCarthy until the
calendar moves closer to the March 13 NHL trading deadline. At that time the Chicago Blackhawks will have to make a decision one way or
another on whether or not McCarthy stays in the pros or is sent back to junior. At best guess, it boils down to a couple of factors. a) Where
the Hawks are in the standings relative to their chances of gunning for a playoff spot. If the Hawks go into the tank and are well out of playoff
contention look for McCarthy to stay and play. Getting the much needed ice-time in order for him to develop. b) Injuries on the blueline. This
factor is key. The Hawks have four defensemen currently out of the lineup in various stages of healing or suspension. Jaroslav Spacek
(shoulder), Boris Mironov (wrist) Jamie Allison (ankle) Alexander Karpotvsev (suspension).With the Hawks blueline looking like a M.A.S.H.
unit McCarthy did play against Phoenix on Sunday and will likely continue to play until such time as injuries and suspensions dictate
otherwise. The other of course is the factor of saving face. Perhaps Chicago G.M. knows that in hindsight McCarthy wasn’t read for full-time
NHL duty. Having to pay the star prospect full salary in junior isn’t exactly money well-spent. So will he return or won’t he? Who knows? But
the bottom line right now is that the ICE are coming together as a team right now and winning. Right now that is all that really matters.

Quick Hits – In town for Friday is suddenly cooled off Lethbridge Hurricanes. Saturday the red hot Prince George Cougars are in Cranbrook
for their only visit of the season. Dan Hamhuis is the player to watch for the Cougars. Fresh off the World Juniors, the WHL-QMJHL All-Star
game and Captaining the winning Team Orr at the CHL Top Prospects game, Hamhuis will give ICE goaltender Dan Blackburn a run for the
top WHL player chosen at the 2001 NHL Draft in June. After winning only four games of their first twenty-two, the Cougars have won 22 of
their last 32 games and are tied for second in the West. Easily the best turnaround of the year….. Miss the home action over the last two and a
half weeks? Don’t worry. The ICE play the next five in a row at home and eight of their next nine at the ‘Plex.