In just over a week since B.J. Boxma and Duncan Milroy joined the Kootenay ICE their effect on the club has been a noticeable one. In the three games played since the trade however, the results are missing something just as noticeable – consistency.
A 3-2 loss against Spokane which showcased the return of B.J. Boxma, but was upstaged by goaltender Barry Brust of the Chiefs, whose sheer size coupled with talent makes him a force in between the pipes. Pucks just seem to find him.
A 5-3 victory on home ice against the defending Memorial Cup champion Red Deer Rebels on Saturday in a game that, although out shot by a 34-18 margin, proved why the club went out and got a goaltender of Boxma’s skills as he was the difference in the win.
Less than twenty-four hours later at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary, the locals dropped a 3-1 decision in a lackluster effort to the Hitmen.
Consistency, simplifications, 110% effort, pick a keyword cliche and you’ll find some reasoning in there somewhere. It’s something that has Coach Ryan McGill scratching his head in wonderment. “When we turn the puck over, like we did in the second and third periods tonight, obviously were going to end up in trouble,” said McGill Saturday night after a win that could best be described as not the prettiest one this season, but a win nonetheless. “We have to learn from those mistakes of not getting the pucks out. You make a simple play and you know how easy it is for the puck to end up 200 feet away from your net. If we have a breakdown from trying to get fancy, it seems that we just get running around.”
With steady rearguard Aaron Rome now a Bronco, McGill found himself shortening his defensive unit to the five veterans when it came down to crunch-time. It is a tactic that the ICE blueliners should get used to. “That’s the first time in a long time that we really shortened the ‘D’ up,” said McGill. “We’ve got to start doing that a little bit so that they understand come February and March. They’re in good physical shape but we haven’t done much of it this year and you’ ve got to put them into those situations so that they can get used to it.”
That being said, McGill now has the luxury of a solid Boxma behind the defense. Which in turn bred a confidence with the club that it hasn’t always had this season. “B.J. was right there for us,” offered McGill. “He did what we want our goaltenders to do. Make the stops you’re supposed to make. It’s amazing the calming effect that B.J. has on our bench, and it’s a real confidence booster.”
If the weekend left the ICE scratching their collective heads, then they could take solace in the fact that at least they weren’t in the Red Deer Rebels’ predicament. An eight game winless slide, with the last six being losses, has Rebel Coach, President, G.M. and owner Brent Sutter near the end of his rope. Sutter, talking Saturday after the loss to Kootenay, wasn’t pulling any punches in his criticism of his charges. “We didn’t capitalize on barely any of our opportunities and I didn’t think that our goaltending was all that great tonight either,” said visibly perturbed Sutter who was pacing like a caged tiger ready to pounce. “Look at the mistakes that we make, that we gave up goals from. When you out shoot and out chance a team 2-1, yeah, it’s disappointing, especially when the wins aren’t coming.”
Sutter, who has been the target of some criticism lately from the WHL media for not being accessible after losses, was blunt about the current slide but didn’t have a solution for it, at least not yet. “If we could put our finger on it, we’d have it resolved already,” said Sutter. “If it’s not one thing, one night, it’s another thing, another night.
“It’s frustrating, yeah, damn right it’s frustrating but what are you going to do?” Sutter asked of the slide that has the club slipping to ninth in the CHL Top Ten rankings and fourth in the WHL Writers poll after occupying the top spot in both polls for what seemed like an eternity. “There isn’t one person in this league that’s feeling sorry for the Red Deer Rebels. Everybody wants to kick our ass and the only ones who are going to get us out of this is ourselves.” Sutter added that his club had to be continually diligent in its work ethic, lest they become complacent. “I warned this group about a month-six weeks ago that this was going to happen to us if they didn’t get their heads out their arses and start being aware of the little things and problems that occur in games and they didn’t believe me.
“Now they’re finding themselves exactly what I said they’d be in if they didn’t get going.”
Quick Hits -Near the end of Saturday night’s game with Red Deer pressing, Rebel captain Colby Armstrong got involved in a scrum after the whistle. The end results were coincidental minors with ICE d-man Brennan Evans which put the Rebel’s hottest scorer (17 pts in the last ten consecutive games) out of commission for the rest of the game. Not the smartest move seen in a while . . . Shaun Norrie has been moved up onto the top line of Milroy and Stoll. Norrie responded by potting a natural hat trick against the Rebels. “Gilly’s (ICE coach Ryan McGill) giving me a chance to play on the first line and we seem to be clicking pretty good,” said Norrie.
For the first time in the short history of the Recreation Complex, a fight in the stands broke out. Details are sketchy as to who started what but it did involve some Rebel fans and ICE fans – both apparently inebriated. Nevertheless it seemed to have caught the attention of the players as well as ICE d-man Andy Thompson was caught watching after a face-off and, in what seemed to be a confused Rebel team, Craig Weller wired a bullet just under the crossbar to garner the winner. Talk about bad timing. Weller has probably one of the hardest shot goals in a long while and almost everybody’s watching the festivities in the stands. No word on whether Rebel goalie Cam Ward was watching the fight card because I know he didn’t see the shot… The ICE don’t return to the Plex until after Christmas when the Warriors are in town on the 28th. The club still has two away dates that return dates against the Rebels and Hitmen this Friday and Saturday.