’Dub Weekly: Kootenay Ice on a roll, but they’re not resting on their laurels
Once thought to be rebuilding, young team has won 13 of its past 15 games to get in the running for a playoff spot
Stuart Gradon/Calgary Herald CALGARY, AB: NOVEMBER 12, 2012 - The Kootenay Ice's Brock Montgomery, left, celebrates his opening goal against the Calgary Hitmen during the first period of their WHL game at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta Monday, November 12, 2012. (Stuart Gradon/Calgary Herald) (For Sports story by Kristen Odland) 00040211A
Photograph by: Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald
From the outside, it looked like the Kootenay Ice looked were ready to pack it in at the midway point of the 2012-13 Western Hockey League season.
Chalk it up to a “rebuilding year” and, maybe, coast to the finish line. No one would have questioned it, either, given the inexperience on their roster and the easy excuse of having a new head coach at the helm.
However, heading into February — one of the most crucial months on the WHL calendar — that certainly hasn’t been the case.
The same Ice that were hovering at the bottom of the Eastern Conference at the beginning of the season are now three points out of a playoff spot and have been red-hot in January with wins in 11 of 13 games (their only blemishes are a 4-2 loss at Spokane on Jan. 12 and a 3-2 overtime loss at Moose Jaw on Jan. 25). And they have won 13 of 15 stretching back to Dec. 29.
“You know what? It’s not even in the conversation now,” said Kootenay boss Ryan McGill of the early playoff chatter. “We’re so focused on doing the little things right and staying consistent within ourselves.
“We know that March 16, the big picture will take care of itself and there will be room for us. But we also know it’s still a long haul until then.”
So, in short, yes they’ve taken strides (thanks for noticing). And, yes, they’ve improved.
But are they satisfied? Uh, no.
“It doesn’t mean we, as a young group, aren’t proud of our accomplishments to date,” continued McGill whose club is still below .500 at 23-25-2-0. “It just means we forget about them quicker.
“We now raise the bar a little bit each day and want to keep raising the bar up.”
They definitely raised the bar on a recent road swing through Saskatchewan which saw them pick up all four victories including two in shootouts against Saskatoon and Moose Jaw and one in overtime against Prince Albert.
They also are raising the bar again this week with Central Division road games against Edmonton on Wednesday and Red Deer on Thursday. Then, they’ll host Lethbridge at home on Saturday.
“This is no different,” McGill said. “Three critical games in our minds that we need to try and take another step. We took some huge strides in our last six road games.
“The kids have taken it upon themselves in a lot of areas to prove themselves to everybody. Obviously, we had our issues before Christmas. I just think the young kids have come along really, really well.
“And that’s what we expect out of them.
The young kids in large part have been led by 2012 WHL rookie of the year Sam Reinhart.
A competitive character by nature (something to do with those Reinhart genes, perhaps?) who is destined for the pro ranks, the 17-year-old centreman has earned playing time in all situations. On a point streak since Jan. 2, Reinhart is leading the team in goals (25) and points (55) and is also a plus-seven.
So, it’s no surprise that he’s established himself as a marked player in the league.
McGill said the coaching staff is teaching him how to mentally approach the fact that teams are going to be headhunting him every night.
“The more challenges you throw at him, the better he thrives,” McGill said. “You always worry with young kids about how much they can handle and how much they can absorb.
“Well, he absorbs everything. That’s why he’s such a special individual.”
Kootenay has also seen the emergence of overage defenceman Joey Leach who was named captain after the WHL trade deadline early in January. The rock-steady defenceman and one time-Calgary Flames prospect, is leading by example and also pacing the team with a plus-17 rating (and “doesn’t just play a cute game” according to McGill). He replaced Drew Czerwonka who retired early in the fall and joined the University of Regina Cougars for the duration of the season.
The Ice also shook up the culture in their dressing room, dealing away 19-year-old Erik Benoit to the Saskatoon Blades and 18-year-old defenceman Mike Simpson.
So, added to the improvement of their 1995-born group — which, in the fall, were trying embrace the ways of a new coach who focused on defensive responsibility — expectations are clear.
“Hey, believe me, we’re still learning,” McGill said. “But at the same time, as we learn, we still expect things to happen that this team is capable of doing.”
DUMBA MAKES IMPRESSION
Calgarian Mathew Dumba was returned to the Red Deer Rebels Sunday after an extended stay with the Minnesota Wild.
Although the hard-hitting defenceman didn’t play a single minute, the Wild’s first-round pick from the 2012 NHL draft left an impression.
“He was a sponge while he was here,” Wild coach Mike Yeo told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. “We really didn’t have any thoughts of keeping him here this long. He earned it. Every day he came to the rink and proved himself a little bit more.”
SAMUELSSON TOP PLAYER
Edmonton Oil Kings forward Henrik Samuelsson was dubbed the WHL player of the week on Monday.
No surprise, really, after he collected 10 points (two goals and eight assists) along with a plus-five rating in four game as the Oil Kings went 4-0-0-0.
Samuelsson, who went 27th overall to the Phoenix Coyotes in last summer’s NHL entry draft, sits 11th in WHL scoring with 61 points (26 goals and 35 assists) in 51 games.
Oil Kings backup netminder Tristan Jarry is also the WHL’s nominee for CHL goalie of the week winning both of his games and posting a shutout. He stopped 40 of 42 shots for a 0.952 save percentage and had a 0.98 goals against average.
FIGHTIN’ GOALIE TURN HEADS
Like most people, Calgary Flames scout Tod Button has Twitter.
So, when checked out the action Monday morning from his home in Burlington, Ont., he had to chuckle when he saw chatter about one of his prospects.
In Sunday’s runaway 7-1 home win over the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Edmonton Oil Kings goalie Laurent Brossoit skated to centre ice, dropped his blocker and catcher, and threw down against Hurricanes goalie Ty Rimmer with two minutes remaining in the game. Almost immediately, the video hit YouTube and was retweeted by the Calgary Flames and Hockeyfights.com.
Needless to say, it was Brossoit’s first tilt as a goalie — and it wasn’t exactly his biggest selling point when the Flames selected him 164th overall in the 2011 NHL entry draft.
“We didn’t draft him to be a fighter,” Button said laughing. “But he’s a big kid, a pretty strong kid. It happens, I guess.”
ICE CHIPS . . .
Former Kootenay Ice coach Mark Holick was named the new head coach of the Prince George Cougars after the struggling club fired Dean Clark last week . . . The Canadian Junior Hockey League announced that 129 alumni were on NHL rosters during the opening week of the 2013 NHL season . . . Since a 6-2 loss to Calgary on Dec. 16, the Kelowna Rockets have won 14 games with their only blip being a 4-3 overtime loss to Vancouver on Jan. 12. In total, they’ve had one regulation loss in their last 22 games . . . Other streaking clubs include Victoria (seven), Kootenay (6-0-1-0), and Edmonton (five) . . . On the other side, Regina (0-6-1-0) and Vancouver (0-6-0-0) are struggling . . . Hitmen general manager Kelly Kisio was fined $500 for comments made to the officials following last Friday’s 6-4 loss at Lethbridge . . . Two former WHL officials are slated to make their NHL debuts this week. Referee Graham Skilliter was on the ice for Monday’s clash between the Edmonton Oilers and the Colorado Avalanche at Rexall Place while linesman Kiel Murchison is expected to see his first NHL action on Wednesday at Vancouver between the Canucks and Avalanche.
THEY SAID IT:
“First WHL fight tonight #fortheboys #hometowntilt.”
— Ty Rimmer via Twitter (@Rimms35) after dropping the gloves centre ice at Rexall Place on Sunday with Edmonton Oil Kings goalie Laurent Brossoit.
“What a crazy game, unreal to witness! Rexall was rocking #yakattack #oilers.”
— Edmonton Oil Kings forward Curtis Lazar via Twitter (@CurtisLazar95) after watching last Thursday’s much talked about goal celebration by Oilers forward Nail Yakupov.
“Great seeing Paul Postma with the Jets. I remember w/@SXBroncos when he was 18 and the 7th d-men playing fwd. Just goes to show you.”
— Kamloops Blazers play-by-play voice Jon Keen via Twitter (@JonKeenNLSports) on former Swift Current/Calgary Hitmen defenceman Paul Postma.
“Do not use those words. Because that means you are satisfied.”
— Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill on being asked if his club has exceeded expectations after a rough start to the 2012-13 season and now battling for a playoff spot
“No WHL player has received special status to play at 15. Has to be brought to @HockeyCanada. @Tyler_Benson77 seems right fit 2 be 1st.”
— Dean Millard via Twitter (TPSDean), radio co-host of The Pipeline Show in Edmonton, referring to Edmonton South Side Athletic Club forward Tyler Benson. Over the weekend, Benson broke Ty Rattie’s Alberta Bantam Hockey League record for 132 points on the season and now has 53 goals and 84 assists for 137 points
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