The Winnipeg ICE started their first season with a bang last week. They beat Brandon in the first “Manitoba Battle” of the season. That was followed up with their first defeat as the two clubs met for the second straight night on Saturday.
With that historical weekend now in the past, the ICE embark on another first. They’re in Saskatchewan for their first regular-season three-games-in-three-nights. The trip includes Friday night’s game against Saskatoon, Saturday’s against Prince Albert and Sunday’s against the Regina Pats.
I think it’s safe to say that we can call this entire season one for the history books when it comes to the ICE. After all, there hasn’t been more than one Manitoba team in the league for more than 30 years.
After Saturday’s loss, Winnipeg got right back at it early this week as they began on-ice training and weight training at the Rink Training Centre. Winnipeg went just 1-for-11 on the power play last weekend. On the penalty kill, the club went just 71.4% (5-for-7).
“I was happy with our week of practice. We spent a lot of time trying to drive home a couple of points and we worked a lot on our special teams,” said James Patrick, head coach. “I wasn’t happy with our compete level and engagement on Saturday after winning on the road on Friday. It was a good week of practice and I think we’re ready to go here.”
Throughout training camp and the preseason, the team’s situation between the pipes was a big question mark. In the preseason, Daniel Hauser, Will Gurski, Gage Alexander all saw action.
A big question I personally had was would Duncan McGovern play at all. That question has been answered and it’s since been confirmed that he wouldn’t play again for the organization, at least for now. Earlier this week, the ICE released him from the roster. He currently isn’t on another roster.
With both Alexander and Gurski being just 17-years-old, the ICE was in search of a goalie with some experience and they found that from the Regina Pats. The team acquired Dean McNabb prior to their first game in Brandon. The former Pat played solid all weekend including a 24-save performance on night one.
As of right now, McNabb is the #1 and Gurski and Alexander remain on the roster and they have travelled to Saskatchewan with the team.
Jesse Makaj watch:
He played in 39 games with the team last year and was expected to do big things for the team this year. However, he hasn’t played because of an injury and that isn’t supposed to change anytime in the near future.
“He’s still a ways away right now. He’s going to ease into practice action, but that’s probably not for another three-to-four-weeks maybe,” said Patrick.
So it’s McNabb, Gurski, and Alexander.
“McNabb gave us two really solid starts and we have two 17-year-olds that are competing for the backup role right now,” said Patrick. “They’re real big goalies that need some fine tuning, but they have a lot of potential.”
“They’re working hard and the biggest thing for them is learning the pace of the shots and speed at this level,” said Patrick. “With us having three games this weekend, we’ll need to use two goalies at least.”
James said within the next month or so that he’ll have a better idea of the goaltending situation.
“When Makaj comes back, things will play itself out,” offered Patrick. “We’re not focusing on that right now, though, we’re focusing on what we have right now. These guys have an opportunity to show what they have.”
It’s hard to single out a player on a team that is full of young potential. But, no matter how much young talent there is, there is still the watch on young superstar Matthew Savoie. He’s expected to play in at least 30 games this season as a 15-year-old and he started things off with two games over the weekend.
He had seven shots in the first two games.
“I was really pleased with how he played. He continues to learn and he showed me that he can play at this level, it’s not easy on 15-year-olds,” said Patrick. “He could have probably had two points in that first game against Brandon. He’s going to continue to get better. I felt he was one of our betters players especially on Saturday.”
Early season injuries:
It doesn’t matter when it is, it’s never good to lose a player and Winnipeg will be without one of their 20-year-olds for now. Chase Hartje was hurt last weekend. He is now considered week-to-week. Winnipeg’s life without one of their best defenders will begin effective immediately.
“It’s a big hole because he plays a lot of minutes for us and he skates well and he defends our zone well,” continued Patrick. “With that said, it gives other guys a chance. We have eight defence here and they’ll get a chance. Take Anson McMaster for instance, he didn’t play on Friday but I thought he played really well on Saturday.”
That means the group will be going forward with Benjamin Zloty, Mike Ladyman, Anson McMaster, Carson Lambos, Nolan Orzeck, Reece Harsch, Zachary Patrick, and Marco Creta. With the week-to-week timeline, it’s hard to determine when Hartje will return.
With all of that aside, it’s time to get down to business. As mentioned before, Winnipeg invades the Bridge City on Friday, they’re in the Gateway to the North on Saturday, and they wrap up their three-in-three in the Queen City on Sunday.
The Raiders, Pats, and Blades are a combined 3-2-1 heading into the weekend. Prince Albert is the lone team without a regulation loss, their lone loss was in overtime.
“This is what the Western Hockey League is all about. Long bus trips, three-games-in-three-days, it’s a battle,” said Patrick. “It’s a new experience for some of our players including Nino Kinder and Michal Teply. We’re just taking things one game at a time.”
“Saskatoon and Prince Albert are extremely tough and I know Regina is a really improved team from where they were last year,” he concluded. “We want to play well and get better every shift.”
Stay tuned throughout the weekend for updates and early next week as we take another look at the Winnipeg ICE.