ICE Ready for season opener

By Jeff Bromley

Ready or not, the Kootenay ICE 2001-02 WHL season begins this week and if the pre-season is a good indicator of things to come, a 4-0 exhibition record is a nice way to start things off. Be that as it may, head coach Ryan McGill still isn’t satisfied that his charges are where he wants them to be come the home and regular season opener against the club’s newest conference rival, the Spokane Chiefs. “No, but that’s not a bad thing,” said McGill when asked if the club is where he wants them to be the week leading up to the start of the season.

“The good thing is that we’re going to have three good practices Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and that should get us close to where we want to be.”

In a pre-season that was shortened by one game due to the terrorist attack on the United States last week, the club featured in it’s exhibition a depth in the line-up that was somewhat unexpected with the club missing up to six of it’s veterans away a various NHL camps. Nowhere was that more evident than at the rookie level where 16-yr-old’s Nigel Dawes at center, who led the club in scoring with 10 points in four games and Brian Bridges, also sixteen, is surprising everyone by pushing veteran Jeff Harvey for the back-up goalie slot behind Dan Blackburn who is still at the New York Rangers training camp.

It is at that depth that Coach McGill let on will be a feature of his club this season. A factor that can somewhat be attributed to the ‘Rebel’ effect, after the success of the Memorial Cup champion Red Deer Rebels. Meaning a balance of four lines rather than two top scoring units, a checking line and a fourth, so-called ‘rookie line’ that would see only spot duty as has been the case in the past. With surprising offensive output from the Winnipeg rookie Dawes, the possibility for a full balanced attack from the third and fourth lines can become reality. As a rookie, the tendency would be to bring him along slowly which would see him on the fourth line. Although that could still be the case with returning high-profile veterans like Jarret Stoll, Dawes is pushing the envelope by his offensive production. “We’re going to have four good lines this year,” said McGill. “We’re not going to have a fourth line that sits on the bench.

“With four good solid lines we’ll have a mix of youth and a mix of older guys on each line. At the same time we haven’t really sat down and hammered out any lines yet because we don’t have everybody back. If Jarrett (Stoll) comes back next week and we haven’t seen Thomas (Plihal) play in a game yet, so when they get back we’ll get an idea where everybody fits.”

“There’s a lot of question marks right now but a the same time Nigel’s had a very good preseason and deserves to get some of the ice time.”

Quick Hits – The rivalry between the Chiefs and the ICE will be intensified with the two clubs meeting seven times this season. Strong indicators were shown last Saturday night as at almost every stoppage was followed by customary pushing and shoving but no extracurricular activities of the fisticuff variety. Kurt Sauer of the Chiefs was especially agitated and living up to his name as he was in a sour mood all night. Watch for fireworks, both literally and figuratively, come the home and home series Friday and Saturday…. MIA? – No Curtis Fransoo has not been cut, although the seventeen-yr-old was left off the program last Saturday night the promising rearguard is still with the club but underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and will be out two weeks. The hit Tyler Johnson of the Calgary Hitmen laid on Colin Sinclair was more serious than first thought but not serious enough to keep him out of the line-up for the home-opener. Check the program though as he’ll be wearing number ten instead of twenty-four, his marker the last three years….

Thomas Plihal is back from San Jose Sharks camp and will be in the line-up for the ICE faithful to see the slick Slovak in game action for the first time… Marek Svatos will also stay with the ICE as the Colorado Avalanche decided not to take any rookies to Hershey’s (AHL affiliate) camp….. For what it’s worth, Kootenay has once again been named by The Hockey News as the number one ranked team in the CHL to begin the season for the second season in a row…. The WHL also announced that Everett, Washington has been granted a conditional expansion franchise, subject to league governor’s approval, to begin play in 2003-04… The season starts Friday 7PM at the ‘Plex against the Chiefs.