Although the Cold Lake Ice have known who they were going to play for the past couple of weeks, that doesn’t take any excitement away from the start of the first round of NEAJBHL playoffs.
“Obviously, we get a little more excited. I’m pretty fired up to start, I’m not gonna go dye my hair blonde or anything crazy like that, but I’m ready to go,” said coach Scott Hood. “It’s just you’re playing for something now and it’s fun and winning a championship is the best thing a player can do.”
The Ice are set to take on the Vermilion Tigers in the best-of-seven first round matchup that begins Thursday night at the Vermilion Stadium. In a scheduling twist, Games 2 & 3 will be at Imperial Oil Place this weekend, Saturday and Sunday nights.
“The biggest thing is consistency and battling. Who wants to lay it all on the line for seven games? They’re a tough team to play against. They got the skill, they work hard, they have speed. We’ll have a practice tonight (Tuesday). See how that looks. Work on a few things and just try to get the guys’ mindset and mood ready for playoffs,” said Hood.
These two squads met six times throughout the regular season, with the Tigers taking four of the six matchups — three of those decided by just one goal. Just two points separated these teams in the NEAJBHL standings, so a close series is anticipated.
Special teams is usually a deciding factor when it comes to the post-season. Hood feels confident the Ice’s penalty kill could provide success.
“Our penalty kill has been good. Our last 12 games we’ve gotten better and moved into top two in the league, so that’s nice. The powerplay’s inconsistent. We score a goal here and there. But if we have the tools to score one a game, that’ll be the difference. Get some power play goals and kill some off here. Don’t put ourselves in a bad spot, but this will be a key — we don’t want to get in the box against these guys and give them that opportunity to put one home.”
Between the pipes, Dustin Johnston-Watson has appeared the most for Cold Lake and is one of four 21-year-olds on the team. Him and Jayden Chase will be the backstops down the stretch for the team.
“That’s probably the toughest decision because you’re picking one guy and that’s your choice. So we’ll spend some time getting together as a staff here and kind of figuring out which way we’re going to go. But either/or I feel confident in who we start in goal,” said Hood.
Two years ago during the 2019-20 season, the Ice made it to the second round before being ousted by the Lac La Biche Clippers. As Lac La Biche prepared to take on the St. Paul Canadiens in the final, the province went into a state of emergency and the championship was never played.
That means this will be the first time since the 2018-19 season that a champion will be crowned.
Puck drop for Games 2 and 3 this weekend are at 7:30pm at Imperial Oil Place. There is a guaranteed 50/50 draw of $500 for each game.
“The 50/50 is starting at $500 both nights. That’s a good, good start. Obviously, there is a ton of local kids, good hockey and it should be a fun one. Obviously, all of these restrictions…are there, but come out and watch some hockey.”