For the first time this season, the Winnipeg ICE have encountered a road bump. After a fantastic trip to Saskatchewan that resulted in five points in three games, things took a turn this past weekend and not for the good.
Before we look at what’s ahead for the team, let’s take a quick look at their season so far. After a split with the Brandon Wheat Kings to start their campaign, the ICE hit the road for that Saskatchewan trip as mentioned above. They took the Prince Albert Raiders to overtime, beat the Saskatoon Blades, and took down the Regina Pats.
That had their record at 3-1-1, which was a surprise to some but not to others. In my preseason rankings for the ICE, I didn’t have them that high because I didn’t think they would be a team that could score and consistent goaltending would be hard to find with Jesse Makaj sidelined.
When it comes to offence, I would have to say my thoughts were incorrect. Winnipeg has mustered 19 goals this season, which is near the top of the Eastern Conference. Led by import selection Michal Teply and his seven points, the ICE have been able to get it done, at times. What do I mean by ‘at times’? Well, I’ll get to that in just a little bit.
On the other note, consistent goaltending has been hard to come by. The team has allowed 28 goals, which is second last in the Eastern Conference.
Now, a lot of those goals came in the team’s last two games. They hosted Edmonton and Vancouver this past weekend. Friday’s game against Edmonton resulted in a 7-0 loss. One night later, the team was shut out once again, this time against Vancouver, 4-0.
So their -9 ratio is basically because of one tough weekend. It’s week two, though, and who doesn’t struggle sometimes? Some people may forget that the ICE outshot both of their opponents over the weekend.
They had 36 shots to Vancouver’s 30 on Saturday and 40 to Edmonton’s 35 on Friday. I know, shots don’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but it does prove that Winnipeg is forcing the issue, something they’ve been doing all season so far.
“I thought the first game we didn’t really have the compete that we had in the Saskatchewan trip,” said Reece Harsch, courtesy of Winnipegice.ca. “We really came out flying against Vancouver and we played a pretty good game. It’s just the little mistakes that hurt us.”
Reece has been playing in the WHL full-time since the 2016-17 season, when he suited up in 87 games, including the playoffs. After joining the ICE in the off-season, he’s hoping to use his knowledge and experience to help the younger guys.
“Yeah, for sure. I’ve been in the playoffs and all that. Our work ethic always has to be there, and we set a pretty high standard,” continued Harsch.
Things certainly don’t get any easier for Winnipeg. They’ll make the near 11 hour trip on Thursday to Medicine Hat for a game against the Tigers on Friday. The Tigers are 4-2-1 so far. On Saturday, the club makes its way back home but not before a game against Swift Current.
Swift Current is 2-3 this season, and they’ve scored just nine goals.
The fact is both games are on the road, but maybe that’s just the way Winnipeg wants it. They’re 3-0-1 away from the Wayne Fleming Arena this season. That’s compared to an 0-3 record on home ice.
“I think, with the away crowd, you have to create your own energy, and we sort of thrive on that and get going,” continued Harsch.
Weekend keys to success:
- Continue to get shots. Although not every shot is a good one, they need to continue to force the issue and crash the net hard.
- Score on the power play. Despite having 19 goals, Winnipeg hasn’t really done much with the man advantage. They’re 5-for-33 for 15.1%. That’s 18th in the 22-team league.
- Kill off penalties. It’s one thing to take penalties, but it’s another if you can’t kill them off, and Winnipeg has struggled this year. They’ve given up eight power-play goals, and they’ve only killed off 17 for 68%. That’s 21st in the league.
- Import success. It’s clear that the team will rely heavily on Nino Kinder and Michal Teply this season. They’ve combined for 12 points (7G).
- Rookie success. On top of Kinder and Teply, Carson Lambos is putting together a solid rookie campaign. He’s got five points (2G), and he’s a +1. Lambos is the only ICE player with at least three points while being a plus.
We’ve talked about it before and we’ll talk about it again. The Western Hockey League schedule is not easy, especially for Winnipeg. They have to drive 11 hours for one game before making a stop in Saskatchewan for one more. Then it’s back-home time.
But that’s not an excuse, and the ICE haven’t been using it as one so far. After all, they’ve been really, really good on the road.
Can that continue? We will soon find out.
For now, that’s going to wrap things up. Check in later this week when I will have the chance to chat with Nino Kinder ahead of this weekend’s games.