Jarret Stoll Takes Charge

By Jeff Bromley
While not nearly as successful as the weekend before, the Kootenay ICE accomplished what they needed to in their second three game in three nights weekend in a row. Coming off a 4-0 loss to Red Deer and a 2-1 overtime loss to the Medicine Hat Tigers on the road on Friday and Saturday, the ICE saved their best for last in front of the seventh sell-out of the regular season at home with a crucial 4-1 win over their Eastern Conference rivals, the Swift Current Broncos. In getting a leg up on the Broncos by two points, the ICE have the slight edge for maintaining home-ice advantage as the Broncos, as Eastern Division champions will have the second seed for the first round of the playoffs with the ICE settling into the third spot but in the subsequent playoff rounds, the home-ice advantage will go to the club with the better points total.

As the ICE enter into the 2001 edition of the WHL playoffs almost exactly where they started last season before going on their amazing Memorial Cup run, it is clear that where the leader of last season’s playoff run Mike Green left off, Jarret Stoll is ready to emerge as a leader in his own right as the club begins the playoff portion of their defense of the WHL Championship crown.

Starting the season it seemed that everything that Jarret Stoll touched turned to points. Playing on a line with Mike Comrie it was easy to see why. At the same time Stoll would have trouble establishing himself as a dominant player if only for the fact that he was on a line with Mike Comrie. When Comrie was here the perception was that Mike Comrie was the be all and end all of the Kootenay ICE and that the contributions of the rest of the club seemed to get lost somewhere in the translation, even to the point of teammates kidding the Yorkton, Saskatchewan product about riding the ‘Comrie Train’ of success.

The signing of Comrie by the Edmonton Oilers over the Christmas break changed all that. Comrie leaving the club gave the team a chance to establish their own identity while the departure also presented the opportunity or burden, depending on your point of view, for Jarret Stoll to establish himself as the dominant player fans and teammates alike knew he could be. After his return from a bronze medal performance at the World Junior Championships where Stoll’s role on the national squad could best be described as a ‘defensive specialist’, a far cry from his role with the ICE, the stage was set for Stoll to take the leadership of the club by the horns and lead the ICE to the playoffs. One could that the bell rang for Jarret Stoll and he answered it, resoundingly.

Making some adjustments to his game that was already well-rounded, Stoll decided to add the element of a physical presence to his game. To put it mildly, it’s made all the difference in the world. “It’s creating the chances for me offensively. Off the forecheck, playing more physical, all of a suddenly I realized that it’s just a matter finishing your checks and you get the open ice and it’s paying huge dividends right now for myself and the team,” said Stoll after Sunday’s win against the Broncos. “But everyone’s finishing checks, including guys who don’t necessarily check a lot are finishing them too. It’s seems that everyone’s getting on the same page right now.”

The ice might be opening up for Jarret Stoll but so is the Kootenay ICE record book. Stoll is the first ICE player to achieve the 100 point mark in a season, setting a club record in the process. He also became the club’s all-time leader in assists the weekend prior and is adding to that mark game in and game out. Add to that his contribution on the power-play and perfecting of his play at the point, both from offensive aspect and more particularly, the defensive aspect when called upon during the man-advantage and you begin to see the contribution that Stoll is making to the hockey club. His contributions perhaps overshadowed in the first half of the season due to the overwhelming play of Mike Comrie, Stoll has taken on the role of top player on the ICE with a vengeance since January. With the Playoffs looming, Stoll’s determined to see his club defend it’s WHL title. “Going down there we’ve got to keep up the same way we’ve been playing,” said Stoll. “The last two games we’ve had a couple of tough losses but we didn’t play that bad but we just couldn’t score and that happens sometimes. We won’t change our game at all, we going well right now.”

Quick Hits
– The game also featured the return of former ICE goaltender B.J. Boxma. Boxma, who’s played extremely well in backstopping the Broncos to the Eastern Division title, was disappointed with the loss but was excited to play in his old stomping grounds again and did find one positive out of the loss of the Broncos. “It’s a little tough coming back to your old team but at the same time I’m really happy about my situation in Swift Current. I’m getting the chance to play and play as a number one goaltender, so I’m pretty happy,” said Boxma. Boxma did have a small condolence in that he stopped former teammate Colin Sinclair on two break away. “I know Sincs doesn’t like to miss opportunities like those but it’s kind of nice to stop your old buddies on the ice, I guess I’ll have to give it to him a little when we go out and eat.”….. The sold-out crowd for Sunday’s regular season finale of 4388 pushed the total draw for the season over the 131,000 mark, averaging about 3650 per game.