A season worth remembering

By Jeff Bromley

A season worth remembering
Just before the puck was dropped on
game seven of the WHL semifinal series
between the Kootenay ICE and the
Swift Current Broncos this past week I
asked ICE minority owner Jim Stypula if
he was nervous as to the outcome of the
deciding game. “Win or lose,” he
replied. “The sun will still come up
tomorrow.” In the aftermath of a
heartbreaking seventh game loss by the
ICE at the hands of the Broncos, those
words of obvious truth were of little
consequence to fans, players, coaches,
management and even a partial media
that never seems to be able to put the
‘im’ in front of it as the curtain came
abruptly down on what was a season full
of incredibly entertaining highs and
lows. A wild ride that didn’t include that
dizzying climax that puts the end on the
story the way a league championship did
only one year earlier.
The end of a season enables everyone to
reflect on the year that was or perhaps,
wasn’t. Reflection is always a subjective
process. All the what ifs and the things
that could’ve been done differently come
to the forefront as most put on their
twenty-twenty hindsight glasses and
suddenly become experts at what is
becoming an increasingly perfect science
of looking back and saying ‘things would
be different if only…’
In fact the season could be deemed
overwhelmingly successful with the only
noted exception being that the club
failed to repeat as WHL champions, a
feat that most everyone would agree is
much harder than actually winning the
thing in the first place. From the
beginning the pressure was dumped on
the shoulders of the ICE. Named the
number one-ranked team in the nation
right from the get go, the consensus was
that the coronation as champions was
only a formality. Perhaps pundits and
experts alike realize now that is why
they play the games. The arrival of Mike
Comrie sent shockwaves throughout the
league as Comrie promptly turned the
WHL on its ear with his torrid scoring
pace of 79 points in a scant 37 games. A
grueling ten game road trip to begin the
season, of which the ICE won eight, as
the ICE and the region eagerly awaited
the completion and christening of their
brand-new home, the Cranbrook
Rec/Plex. Talk first began arising that
star defenseman Steve McCarthy could
be sent back from the NHL’s Chicago
Blackhawks. The future definitely
looked bright for the Kootenay ICE as
they attempted to defend their WHL
As in any season their were bumps in the
road. Face with the prospect of too
many overage players, ICE G.M Bob
Tory pulls the trigger on a deal that
sends Dion Lassu and Brad Tutschek to
Seattle for fellow overage player Bret
DeCecco and up and coming
defensemen Brennan Evans. The deal is
looked upon with mixed reactions as it
is thought that Lassu is the anchor of the
ICE blueline. At the time it didn’t matter
as the ICE offense was clipping along at
around a five goal per game pace,
DeCecco would only augment that
offensive firepower. The deal for
DeCecco was also an insurance policy
against the possibility that Mike Comrie
would sign with the Edmonton Oilers by
the January 1 deadline. At the end of
October, you would be hard pressed to
find anyone that thought that Comrie
would sign. Even in hindsight the
situation is Catch 22. Take the steady
defensive play of Lassu or the offensive
contributions of Bret DeCecco,
especially down the stretch. Which do
you choose?
With the eventuality that Mike Comrie
did end up signing with the Oilers over
the Christmas break stunned the club
and it’s fans. In an offense that was
almost completely geared around Mike
Comrie, the transition was far from
smooth and in the sense that a tiger
waits in the weeds before overtaking its
prey, the Red Deer Rebels were starting
to make a move on the first place ICE
that would see the Rebels pass them in
the standings. The club recovered from
Mike Comrie leaving, making the
DeCecco trade look almost prophetic in
its offensive insurance. During a time-
span of about a one month period,
staggered over December and January,
the club pressed on without the likes of
Dan Blackburn (injury), Jarret Stoll and
Zdenek Blatny (World Juniors) in the
lineup. Add to that the fact that Slovak
Marek Svatos, after lighting the league
up in his first fifteen games had still not
been cleared to play by the CHL due to
transfer problems. If the club needed
adversity to build character, it got it in
Finishing up the regular season on a tear
(15-3-1-2 in their last 21 games) the
ICE seem poised for a lengthy playoff
run. After dispatching the Moose Jaw
Warriors in four straight games, it was a
rematch with the Swift Current Broncos
in what would be one of the closest,
hardest-fought series of the playoffs.
Alas, it was not meant to be.
Nevertheless, the club has many things
to be proud of after this season. Another
100 point season, so many team records
broken that the book will have to be
rewritten, Jarret Stoll and Zdenek
Blatny’s success at the World Junior’s
and Dan Blackburn’s coming out party
in June at the NHL Draft where he’ll
almost surely become the highest ICE
player ever to be drafted. Probably the
most successful factor in the season
would be the fans and the sheer amount
of them. Posting a 3650 average per
game, clicking the turnstiles to the tune
of over 131,000 in total attendance and
topping it off with the Regina Leader-
Post WHL Management/Player Poll by
being voted the Eastern Conference’ best
fans. In the league’s second-smallest
market that is a feat that everyone can
be proud of.
So the season was an overall success.
Perhaps not to the extent of last season’s
but you can’t win a championship every
year. The future looks bright for the
franchise both on and off the ice – the
chance to be a champion will come
Mr. Stypula, you were right that even
though they lost the sun did indeed rise
again the next morning, perhaps not
with the same glow as the day before
but it did come up. With that realization
came another revelation – that only 120
more sunrises until training camp opens.
– I can hardly wait.