Home not so sweet for Kootenay

By Jeff Bromley

The good news is that the Kootenay ICE have resurrected their road game record and seemed to have solved the problems that plagued the club earlier on in the season while away from the Cranbrook Rec./Plex.

The problem now is that the club isn’t on the road and won’t be for another two weeks.

After Wednesday’s loss to the Swift Current Broncos and a weekend that featured an ugly win over one of the WHL’s supposed weaker teams in Seattle and a woefully inadequate defensive effort that saw them on the wrong end of a 3-1 decision against the Regina Pats, being on the road is a place the club just might want to be. In a reversal of fortune that’s seen the boys of white, bronze and royal blue drop three of their last four home dates, the news doesn’t get any better as the ICE still have three games left in a season-long, six-game home stand that doesn’t feel much like home.

For Kootenay Coach Ryan McGill, the problem of consistency, or lack of it, from his club has been an issue that’s been a work in progress over most of a season that isn’t so young anymore. Having played twenty-nine games, the ICE are well past the quarter-pole and are creeping up on the halfway mark in the season. It is an issue that, in Coach McGill’s eyes has to be settled sooner rather than later. “Finally, with (the two losses) we lost at home,” said McGill after the loss to Regina last Sunday. “Ever since we got home from the road trip we haven’t played that well and we’ve got away with it.”

Against Regina Sunday night for reasons which could be equally attributed to the stellar play of seventeen-yr-old goalie Josh Harding who stopped 29 of 30 shots, many of the spectacular variety, and the sporadic play of the club that seemingly only could muster any passion when they were in the offensive zone, Coach McGill was as frustrated behind the bench as were the 3000 patrons in attendance. Frustrated to point of juggling his lines that would make a circus performer proud. “The lines were juggled tonight because nobody was clicking and that stems from everybody going in their own direction because they want to do it their way because they think they’ve had success doing their way,” said the ICE coach who very much looked like he was at his wits end. “On the last road trip we had success because everybody followed the game-plan. We get back and everybody’s egos are pretty big and they think that they can do it without preparing themselves and finally it bit us in the butt tonight.”

If it’s practice time the club needs in order to iron out the consistency problems, the club won’t have any trouble fitting it into its schedule. Over the next two weeks the club plays only three games, all of them at the Rec/Plex.

Glance at the WHL standings and you’ll find a deceiving statistic. Tied for first place in the B.C. Division, the standings are a bit of a misnomer. The ICE have played a whopping twenty-nine games while their divisional opponents either tied or chasing them hold an uncanny six games in hand, with Kelowna holding one more at seven. Conceivably the ICE could be ten to twelve points behind both Kamloops and Prince George and fighting Kelowna for third in the division. Unlikely perhaps, but still a telling stat that could have ramifications as the season wears on.

McGill stressed that the inadequacies found in the ICE game of late originate from a laissez faire attitude toward the end result instead of focusing on how it was accomplished. Against some teams an attitude such as that might get you by. Against the clubs in the upper echelon of the WHL, you won’t get very far. “It’s tough to get it through the young guys’ heads,” said McGill. “They don’t understand the fact that when we haven’t played all that well but they still know that they have the win, won’t work. Tonight was a perfect example of that.”

Quick Hits – A telling stat of the past three home games – Power-play percentage for the three games – 2/23 or 8.7%. Regular season average – 26.3%. . . Still with the man-advantage. Is it me or even though the ICE lead the league in the power-play efficiency department, do they also lead in the odd-man rush/against department? I’d bet that for as many power-play chances the club receives they give up almost as many odd-man rushes with the man-advantage. . .

Thinking out loud – For my money I’m using Jarrett Stoll up front rather than the point. I know the modern trend in junior and pro hockey is to use a high-scoring forward on the P.P., but Stoll is better utilized down low where he’s physical and tough to get off the puck. Call me a traditionalist but I like two d-men on the points. Besides, freeing up Stoll strengthens the second unit rather than having all the big guns on the top unit. And for what it’s worth, Craig Weller needs more time on the point – booming low shot, less prone to gambling. Weller saw some extra-man time against Regina and didn’t look out of place. . . The Lethbridge Hurricanes make their first appearance of the year in Cranbrook on Friday at the ‘Plex. Game time is 7pm.