Ice heatin' Dub up

SCOTT FISHER, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 10:56 AM ET

A month into the season, it looked like The Streak was in jeopardy.

The Kootenay Ice have qualified for the WHL post-season 11 straight years.

But after stumbling out of the blocks to a 5-11-0 start, things looked bleak in Cranbrook.

Fast-forward 10 weeks and it's a totally different picture.

The Ice are the hottest team in the league and are challenging for top spot in the Central Division.

Head coach Mark Holick admits it's a position few could imagine during those dark days back in October.

"We always believed in our guys, but let's call a spade a spade here," Holick said.

"With the start that we had to where we are now, it's a complete 180.

"Confidence is a funny thing. We had a tough start and were still trying to find our way.

"But we got healthy, number one, and our best players have been our best players."

The Ice beat the Calgary Hitmen 3-1 Sunday to run their winning streak to a franchise-record 12 games.

They're now one point back of the Hitmen and three behind the first-place Medicine Hat Tigers, who have played four more games.

Holick said the club plays the way it practises -- hard.

"Our practice habits have been unbelievable for the last two-and-a-half months," he said.

"We work so hard in practice.

"We compete against each other and the boys have fun with it.

"It's a real positive atmosphere and that just carries over into the games."

Holick credits veteran Dustin Sylvester for showing the young team how to prepare on a daily basis.

"He's our captain," Holick said. "He's our leader on and off the ice. When you see a 20-year-old, a five-year guy, work as hard as he does in practice and in the weight room, everybody else has no choice but to follow along."

Sylvester, who leads the team with 24 goals and 59 points in 43 games, points to one period in particular for turning the club's season around.

"We were down 4-0 in the third period in Kamloops," Sylvester said of the Nov. 27 tilt.

"Our powerplay got going. From then on, our powerplay was working and we started winning games."

The Ice battled back to beat the Blazers 6-5 in a shootout, sparking a run that has seen the squad go 17-2-1 in the last 20 games.

Sylvester's linemate, Steele Boomer, also pointed to the pivotal comeback for laying the foundation for the current hot streak.

"We all just bought in, battled back and ended up winning that game," Boomer said.

"I think we all realized when we buy in, we're a pretty good hockey team. That's where we turned it around."

Boomer, an Edmonton product, said winning has brought the team closer together.

"A lot of it is confidence," he said. "If you get down a goal, there's no panicking. You rely on your teammates to do their job and you go out and do your own.

"It's easy to play when you can trust everybody out there."

Sylvester agreed.

"Any time we're on a big winning streak like this, there's a lot of confidence in the dressing room," Sylvester said.

"When we were 5-11, it was a tough. The guys were a little down.

"But the coaches were good with us and kept us positive. We can't really complain now."

The city of Cranbrook is starting to take notice of the team's success.

There was a season-high crowd of 3,326 on hand to witness Kootenay's 4-3 win over Spokane on the weekend.

Sylvester said his teammates got a lift from the supportive fans.

"It was pretty exciting," he said. "It was the loudest I've heard it in there for awhile.

"It helps out a lot when the crowd's behind us."

SCOTT.FISHER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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