Landon Peel didn’t expect to step onto the ice at Westman Place for another Western Hockey League game.
Instead, he’s here for two this weekend as a member of the Kootenay Ice.
After serving stints with Regina in each of the previous three seasons but failing to find regular work with the Pats, the Virden native made the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Swan Valley Stampeders his sole focus last fall, going straight to camp with them instead of attending any WHL tryouts first.
So when the Ice came calling at the Jan. 10 trade deadline, looking for defensive depth, Peel didn’t see it coming.
"It was quite a surprise," Peel said following Kootenay’s gameday skate on Friday.
"Being an 18-year-old, it’s very tough (to get back into the WHL), but Kootenay gave me the opportunity and I’m going to try and make the best of it."
Peel earned that opportunity as one of the MJHL’s top offensive defencemen this season, with nine goals and 32 points in 37 games for the Stamps. His role hasn’t been quite as large with the Ice, but Peel has done his share, drawing an assist in his debut and playing the last 15 games.
In his 14 games going into last night’s game — the first of back-to-back contests against the Wheat Kings — he had three assists with a plus/minus of +4.
With a little more experience and some time to fill out his 6-foot-0, 170-pound frame, Peel believes he’s readier now for the grind of the WHL than he was at 16 and 17 years old.
"Being in (the league) before when I was younger and playing against bigger and better guys made me realize what I’ve got to do," said Peel, who was paired with Ice captain Joey Leach last night. "So I think I’m more prepared now than I was before."
He’s also benefitted from some pretty good timing. Languishing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings for much of the first half, Kootenay has been on fire since the Christmas break.
The Ice had a 17-5-1-0 second-half record going into last night’s game and had moved up to ninth in the conference, in the thick of the playoff hunt.
"It’s really hard to believe that they struggled because they’re really clicking right now," Peel said of his teammates.
"If we keep winning like we are and playing like we do, we should be able to get in (to the playoffs) and make a push for it."