Kootenay hits stride with win streak

By Jeff Bromley

It was supposed to be a battle of two heavyweights running elbow to elbow in the race for the WHL playoffs. It was supposed to be a possible prelude to a first round playoff match-up. Tuesday night’s game between the Kootenay ICE and the Prince George Cougars was supposed to be a lot of things.

What it wasn’t was your classic, late regular season division match-up.

In short, it was a massacre.

The Kootenay ICE extended their winning streak to four games after a 10-4 thrashing of their northern divisional rivals in a crucial game that saw the ICE go five points up on the Cougars for second place in the division and a scant four points back of the division-leading Kamloops Blazers. After surrendering the first goal to the Cougars, the ICE potted two in taking a 2-1 lead into the dressing after the first frame. It was a lead that would not be relinquished as Kootenay exploded for seven second period goals and set a new team record for goals scored in a period in the process.

For ICE forward Shaun Norrie, who notched four assists in the romp over the Cougars, the lopsided win was a little payback for Kootenay’s consecutive losses in Prince George a couple weeks back. “When they beat us up there, we weren’t very happy about it,” said Norrie whose been making the most of his time on the top line with Jarrett Stoll and Marek Svatos and chipped in six points (1g, 5a) in the last four games. “We came out tonight and took it to them.”

Norrie however doesn’t think that the game will have that much of an effect come playoff time if the two clubs meet. “It (the win) could mean home-ice advantage if we end up playing them,” said Norrie. “They’ll have doubts the next time they play us, if it happens. They’ll want revenge just like we did when we lost.”

For the Cougars, who are now 2-7-1 in their last ten games, the club is facing drought-like conditions both in the win column and on the scoreboard. Missing key parts of the team puzzle in overage players in D Tim Wedderburn and F Ken Davis, who are out indefinitely with knee injuries and nineteen-yr-old offensive forward Mike Wirll, obtained from Prince Albert at the league’s trading deadline, who’s out with back troubles for at least another week, Cougars head coach Ed Dempsey said that’s no excuse for Tuesday’s result.

“We got our ass kicked pretty good,” said Dempsey, who looked at a loss for answers for the team’s recent misfortunes. “There’s a lot things we didn’t do right at all. Kootenay did a good job. They just overwhelmed us.” That said, when players are out of the lineup, others will get their chance to stand up and shine. That didn’t or hasn’t been happening for the Cougars said Dempsey. “That’s probably the most disappointing fact of the game tonight for myself. Some guys got some quality time and that’s when you’ve got to try and establish on your team and in the league.

“We didn’t do that and the fact that we missed some of those older guys is also an opportunity for some guys – they have to take advantage of that.”

Possible playoff match-ups aside, Kootenay is starting to hit its stride at a key time with just eight games remaining in the regular season. The past four games have some telling stats that jump out at you. Kootenay scored twenty-five goals while allowing ten. The power-play weighed in at 7/17 (41%) in the past four games and the club has hit the forty-shot plateau in the last three games. Signs that the club is peaking at the right time in the season, something Coach Ryan McGill has reason to smile about. “Tonight the second period was probably one of the best periods played by this hockey club all season,” said McGill. “We want to peak for the playoffs and hopefully this is the time to put everything aside and focus on the task at hand and go into the playoffs on a roll.” After the club’s long four games in five nights set and the weekend at the West coast, McGill is looking forward to the three days of practice before the next three home dates. With the club on a roll of late, the season winding down and the playoffs fast approaching, practices because somewhat of a haven for the club from the grinding regular season schedule. “The best thing about this time of year is that practice is all fine tuning. You don’t have to work on systems or breakdowns because we’ve done that all year long. We’ve just got to make sure that we keep a high-game tempo (in the practices) and maintain our focus.”

Quick Hits – Tomas Plihal, who potted two assists in Tuesday’s win, set a franchise record for most points by a rookie. With 81 points, Plihal surpasses the record of 79 set last year by Mike Comrie . . . Rookie Nigel Dawes has seven points (1g, 6a) in his last four games . . . Next up for the ICE are the Lethbridge Hurricanes at the ‘Plex on Saturday. The Kelowna Rockets visit Sunday and the Kamloops Blazers are in Cranbrook on Wednesday.