Special teams go ICE cold

By Jeff Bromley

The one area that the Kootenay ICE have been so solid in this season. The one area that has bailed the club out from at times, indifferent play this season. The one area fans could point to in proof that the club indeed belonged in the upper echelon of the WHL – special teams. It is an area that has become a frozen wasteland of late and is a telltale sign of the club’s downward trend that has seen them lose two in a row and the last four of five at the Cranbrook Rec/Plex.

When you lose, you look for excuses. The first place the ICE could look is their special teams, with a rider attached to the word ‘special’, as in, not very.

In the last five games at the ‘Plex, the ICE are running a paltry pace of a 10% efficiency rate with the man-advantage, just about a full 20% off the 29.7% clip the club was enjoying before the home site slide of the last five games. On the other side of the sheet the kill rate while disadvantaged has plunged from a healthy 90.9% success rate to a questionable percentage of just over 79%.

If you consider the trend of games hovering around the one third mark with either a man up or a man down, the numbers begin to speak volumes. It’s a sound Coach Ryan McGill doesn’t like listening to. “Power-plays are a reflection of how hard your best players work, number one,” offered McGill in an attempt to explain his club’s demise in the specialty team department. “But it’s a double-edged sword. If they work hard but they’re not using all their talents as far as seeing lanes, seeing where guys are, basically losing the tunnel vision, then the power-play’s not going to work. You can have all the skill out there in the world but if you don’t use your head and communicate and support then it’s going to go south and that’s exactly where it’s gone.”

McGill’s frustration with other aspects of the team’s game of late, including defending while down a man, has grown with each home date. It’s to the point now where the beleaguered coach is reaching for answers and coming up empty-handed. “We obviously have a pretty good penalty kill,” said McGill after the loss to the Hurricanes. “But tonight we couldn’t clear the puck out of our zone. The one penalty-kill, and I’m not exaggerating, we had six chances to clear the puck and we didn’t get it out once.”

“Do I have an answer for that? No. Is it my responsibility? Yes. I’m directly responsible for these losses at home. I guess I’m just racking my brain right now to figure out what more I can do to get these guys winning hockey games.”

After having a four and five-day break between games over the past two weeks, a rarity this season, the club finds itself in a position not seen since the start of the 2001 campaign – playing catchup. Having watched both Prince George and Kamloops fly by them in the standings, the three tests this weekend against Medicine Hat Friday, Spokane Saturday and in Tri-Cities Sunday suddenly become all that more important than they were just a few weeks ago. With their B.C. Division counterparts still holding fives games in hand, the ICE would do well not to contemplate the consequences of prolonging the current home game slump. On the positive side is the fact that the club goes out on the road for four of the club’s next five dates after the conclusion of the not so home-sweet-home stand. Their last five road games the club captured four of them. Right now that seems of little consequence.

Quick Hits – Jay Bouwmeester and company are in town Friday as the Medicine Hat Tigers are the visitors. Bouwmeester is still the odds-on favorite to be selected number one overall at this June’s NHL Draft. He’s ranked at the top of the top North American skaters by the Central Scouting Bureau in their preliminary rankings . . . Spokane, Saturday night’s guest, has made some lineup changes since the two clubs played last. The Chiefs recently acquired Castlegar’s Justin Kanigan, an 18-year-old, 6′-5″, 223 lb. left-winger along with a fifth round draft pick in next year’s Bantam draft from the Saskatoon Blades in exchange for Justin Keller (83) and Stephen Mann (83)

. . . All three of the Kootenay ICE rookies have been named to teams that will compete in the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge in Selkirk, Manitoba over the Christmas holidays. Bryan Bridges and Dale Mahovsky will play for Team Pacific (B.C. & Alberta players). Nigel Dawes will play for Team Western (Sask. & Manitoba). Ten teams will be competing in the event. Five from Canada (Team Pacific, Team Western, Team Ontario, Team Atlantic and Team Quebec) along with Germany, Russia, Czech Republic, Finland and the U.S.