Three games into a four game Eastern road swing, the Chilliwack Bruins are looking at a good trip.
They could turn it into a great trip with a win in Cranbrook tonight.
The Bruins visit the high-flying Kootenay Ice for a game starting at 6 p.m. at the Cranbrook Rec. Complex., and a win will send the good guys home with a 3-1-0-0 record.
“We’re guaranteed a .500 road trip, but we don’t want to be that team that settles for that sort of stuff,” said Chilliwack head coach Marc Habscheid Monday morning. “We want to reach higher and go into other team’s buildings and find ways to win.”
It won’t be easy.
The Ice possess the league’s second best winning percentage (.767) with an overall record of 11-3-0-1. They’ve done so with suffocating defence, surrendering an average of 2.53 goals against per game.
Abbotsford native Nathan Lieuwen has been outstanding in goal, making nine appearances with eight wins, a 1.78 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. Offensively, the Ice are on par with the Bruins, led by Vancouver Canucks prospects camp invitee Matt Fraser (six goals and 15 points in 14 games).
Kootenay has four NHL draft picks in the lineup. Defenceman Brayden McNabb was a third round pick of the Buffalo Sabres (66th overall) in the 2009 entry draft.
Max Reinhart (64th ova) and Joey Leach (73rd ova) were third round picks of the Calgary Flames last June, with Drew Czerwonka going to Edmonton in the sixth round (166th ova).
Steele Boomer (Chicago), Kevin King (Dallas) and Hayden Rintoul (Florida) received prospect camp invites.
“It’s a team that’s been in the works for a few years, a young that that they stuck with, and now it’s evolved into a pretty good team,” Habscheid commented. “They’ve got good goaltending and defence and they’re well balanced. Their points show how good they’ve become.”
After starting the road trip with a 2-1 win over Edmonton last Wednesday, the Bruins routed the Calgary Hitmen 7-2 at the Saddledome on Friday.
Roman Horak (two), Kevin Sundher, Chris Collins, Brandon Magee, Robin Soudek and Brandon Manning collected goals. Magee’s was his first in the WHL.
Goaltender Lucas Gore stopped 30 of 32 shots.
“Their goaltending had a tough night and they were missing a couple key guys,” Habscheid said. “They didn’t have the night they wanted to and some of our shots found their way in. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Chilliwack hit a road block on Saturday, dropping a 5-4 decision to the Medicine Hat Tigers. Sundher, Soudek, Brendan Persley and Jamie Crooks scored for the Bruins, with Braden Gamble taking the loss in net.
“We’ve gotten progressively better on the trip, and it’s ironic, but I thought our best game was the one in Medicine Hat,” Habscheid observed. “We played determined and physical, but we had some bad puck luck and some calls that went against us.”
Always one to talk about the ‘process,’ Habscheid believes the road trip has been highly beneficial for his crew.
“We’re playing more cohesively as a group, and getting on the road does that,” said Habscheid, who took the Bruins to a Calgary Flames game and a tour of the Edmonton Oilers dressing room. “This is the first time we’ve spent any extended time together as a group, away from home. You can see it on the ice.”
Having said that, Habscheid looks forward to heading home after tomorrow’s game.
“We’ve been away for over a week, and it’s been good, but our home is Chilliwack,” Habscheid said. “It will be nice to play in front of the home crowd again.”