ICE Warriors on the Road
Five games in six nights across three provinces, one time zone now that we’ve gone into winter’s darkness of daylight-saving time and 3212 kilometers round trip of November across the Canadian Prairies. Not exactly the creme de la creme of vacations down at the local travel agency but after posting four of a possible five wins on the club’s longest road excursion of the season, it’s a trip the Kootenay ICE could be looking back on as pivotal in the road to WHL mastery. Prior to their success in Saskatchewan, the ICE were a less than desirable 3-5-1 away from the confines of the Cranbrook Rec/Plex, with two of those victories coming against lower echelon clubs in Vancouver and Kelowna. Coming off a loss to the Calgary Hitmen at home and ending a nine game unbeaten streak in the process, the ensuing road trip that lay ahead was a question mark.
Consider the question answered.
Super Svatos – Some observations from afar: Any questions about the stability of the shoulder of one Marek Svatos can now be safely put to rest. “The doctor said at least one month before I can come back but it only a couple of weeks,” said Svatos of his shoulder injury before the club left for its road trip. “It feels pretty good. I feel good.” Feels good? Potting seven goals (four on the power-play and two being game winners), six assists for thirteen points to put the slick Slovak atop the WHL leader board with teammate Tomas Plihal at 35 points. One behind the Lethbridge Hurricane’s Nathan Barrett with 36. Leading the league with 21 goals and averaging almost two points a game, it’s mind boggling how this kid slipped so far in the CHL Import Draft last year (49th overall) and then falling all the way to the seventh round (227th overall) this past June in the NHL Entry Draft.
Perhaps it’s more tunnel vision than mind boggling as it’s the same old story – size. At 5’10”, 178 lbs. hockey scouts see nothing but the qualifying factor of size first, everything else second when it comes to evaluating hockey players. It’s a crying shame. Oh, and did I forget to mention that Svatos was WHL & CHL player of the week last week? Thought so. That makes two out of the last three WHL P.O.W.’s for the ICE as Tomas Plihal nabbed the award two weeks ago. He was also named WHL Player of the Month for the Western Conference . . .
For those who are counting, the ICE outscored their opponents on the Saskatchewan trek 23-13 as the high octane offense was able to be the first club to crack the 100 goal barrier with 103 goals before the ICE-Broncos match-up. Next is the Medicine Hat Tigers with 90 . . .
Since last season, most have known that Jarrett Stoll was only one goal away from tying the club’s all-time leading goal-scorer’s mark of 93 held by Mike Green. The Yorkton, Sask. product got that tying goal in the first game of the season against Spokane. He hasn’t scored since. After coming back from the hand injury that kept him out of thirteen games, the Calgary Flames draft pick has eight points in seven games back, all assists. Should you be worried? Don’t be, if the calender reads December and he still hasn’t buried one, then you can start worrying . . . At 7-2-1 in their last ten games and with only two losses (10-2-3) in their last fifteen, do the Kootenay ICE have the dubious honor of being the hottest club in the WHL? No, that title goes to their division rival Prince George Cougars who are 8-1-1 in their last ten and have won seven in a row.
Predicted to be bottom feeders in the Western Conference by just about everybody, the Cougars are surprising everybody but themselves . . . Goaltending problem? What Goaltending problem? – Although the road trip solidified the fact that the ICE can score goals by the bushel, keeping them out was a concern. Apparently it is a concern no longer. Starting the first three games of the trip, Jeff Harvey backstopped the club to the first two wins and a close loss against Brandon. Bryan Bridges closed out the trip with two victories in Saskatoon and Prince Albert. Both are playing with more confidence and it seems that the goaltending by committee rather than and established number one/two system is working. It’s probably a good thing because those of you who had any hope of super-tender Dan Blackburn being sent back from the New York Rangers can pretty bank on the kid not returning. Blackburn’s playing great in a backup role and although not officially announced, Ranger G.M. Glen Sather is content in leaving Blackburn right where he is . . .
The six game home stand begins against the Swift Current Broncos on Wednesday with Seattle and Regina visiting the Rec/Plex on Friday and Sunday.