BCMML Kootenay Ice head coach Kris Boyce takes his new group of players through practice on Tuesday, in preparation for opening season this weekend. Kootenay hosts league champion Fraser Valley Thunderbirds at the Cominco Arena on Saturday and Sunday. Jim Bailey photo.

Major Midget Kootenay Ice opens season against league champion Thunderbirds

The BCMML Kootenay Ice look to get off to a good start when they face the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds

The BC Major Midget League (BCMML) season gets underway this weekend with the Kootenay Ice facing off against the league champion Fraser Valley Thunderbirds at the Cominco Arena on Saturday.

The task of rebuilding a team is always difficult and rife with uncertainties and this season is no different for returning head coach Kris Boyce and new GM Garrett Ferguson. The Ice held their camp last month at the same time the Beaver Valley Nitehawks and other area Jr. B teams were competing for the same players during their pre-season.

“We’re pretty strong,” said Boyce. “We still have some spots to fill but the guys that we have in the positions that they’re in right now, we feel very confident that they’re going to have a pretty strong year.”

The Ice travelled to Kelowna for a preseason test earlier this month and went 1-3 against Major Midget teams from Everett, Valley West, Kamloops, and Wenatchee.

“We didn’t really have a team practice, so it was a little rocky. The Nitehawks and Nelson Leafs were still skating so we probably had about 10 guys out.”

Kootenay has six guys returning from last year’s team in Jaxson Waterstreet, Mason McLeod, Jarred Macasso, Caleb Concalves, and last season’s affiliate players Austin McKenzie and Michel Hjelkrem.

Boyce also named their leadership group on Tuesday with McLeod earning the ‘C’, and Waterstreet, Macasso, Concalves and Anthony Williams selected as assistant captains.

The group has been working hard to learn systems, d-zone coverage and the forecheck and be in game shape for what will be a tough test this week against Fraser Valley.

The Thunderbirds beat the Cariboo Cougars in the league championship last season, sweeping the best 2-of-3 final. However, the T-birds fell to the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the Pacific zone playoff, missing a berth to the national midget championship TELUS Cup.

“It’s going to be a good indicator of where we’re going to need to be,” said Boyce. “We’re going into this weekend with an open mind. We don’t know what to expect from them, I know that they have a lot of returning guys and they’re going to be strong, but they don’t know what to expect from us either.”

The Ice split with the Thunderbirds last season, winning two of four games, and had success against the league’s top teams, yet stumbled against the lower seeds, eventually missing the playoffs by just four points with a 13-23-0-4 record.

“We struggled against the bottom teams, we only won one out of four games,” said Boyce. “This year for us to make playoffs we need to beat both Island teams, Thompson, and get our random wins against the Vancouver teams. If we can do that then we’ll make playoffs.”

The Ice moved to Trail two years ago as part of the J.L. Crowe High Performance Hockey Academy and Boyce led the team to an impressive 18-21-0-1 record, making the BCMML playoffs in his first year as head coach.

While the Ice came up short last year, Boyce is confident that hard work and attention to detail will get them through again in 2018-19.

“I think we’re going to be a real hard-working group. I don’t think we’ll be as skilled up front with the goal scoring, but we’ll be more consistent in those one-goal games. We had a ton of them last year, and I think we’ll be on the better half this year.”

Saturday’s game against Fraser Valley goes at the Cominco Arena at 4 p.m., while the puck drop for Sunday’s match is scheduled for 9:45 a.m.

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