Fortunes freezing up for the ICE

By Jeff Bromley

Fortunes freezing up for the ICE

What’s wrong with the Kootenay ICE? For the first time the club’s four-year history in Cranbrook, that’s the question being asked with more and more frequency among the ICE faithful. And with two important home dates this week against the defending Memorial Cup champion Red Deer Rebels on Wednesday and a Prince George Cougar club that is finishing a long road swing into Alberta and Southeastern B.C. on Saturday, the Key City club has a limited amount of time to find the solution to their woes and prohibit themselves from falling to a 4-9 record on the young season.

After a 4-1 loss to the Kamloops Blazers at home last Friday and a disappointing 4-3 road loss to Medicine Hat the next evening, calls of a familiar ring around the Kootenay ICE this season reared its ugly head once again – sub-par goaltending. It’s a cause that after Friday’s loss to the Blazers, Coach McGill vehemently begs to differ. “It’s unfortunate that our goaltender played very well tonight and our other guys didn’t show up and help him out,” said McGill of rookie Bryan Bridges performance against the Blazers. “(It’s) very uncharacteristic of the way we’ve played lately as far as our defensive game and not allowing many shots . . . We’ve got a long ways to go.”

Against the Blazers it was a defensive unit prided on its depth and experience that had trouble containing the speedy and physical Kamloops forwards and allowed an un-Kootenay like 38 shots on the rookie Bridges while a stymied offence only generated a paltry 21 shots on the Blazers’ Steve Belanger. “That’s a total lack of mental preparation,” said a clearly disappointed McGill. “I didn’t think that, with the exception of Trevor Johnson and the two young guys in (Curtis) Fransoo and (Travis) Featherstone, there was anybody else on the back end that actually showed up at the rink tonight.

“And that’s not being harsh that’s just being honest. We need a better effort out of our veteran leaders back there.”

So goaltending, for the time being at least, is not the scape goat held accountable for the club’s sub-.500 record but rather a defensive unit that must share responsibility for the club’s current losing ways.

Right now the most important item on the agenda is stopping the current losing streak at three and trying to right a glorious ship that has somehow gotten lost such a short way into its journey.

At the other end of the scale are the Kamloops Blazers. Who are a team now reaping the dividends of a club who, while being competitive last season, finishing third in the Western division and including an incredible eleven rookies (four of which were sixteen-yr-olds) in their line-up, are indeed a force to be reckoned with as that experience is now paying off in spades. It is an asset that even Coach Dean Evason didn’t fully realize until this season. “This is my third year and I didn’t realize how important it is to be patient and allow the guys to mature, get a little older and little bigger and a little stronger and more importantly, mentally stronger.

“They’re going to make mistakes,” said Evason of his young charges who didn’t make many on this night. “If we can allow them to do that and still feel good about themselves then we’re in a better position. I didn’t realize how important it is from sixteen to seventeen or eighteen not only as a hockey player but as a person it’s big step.”

At 7-1 to start the season, it’s a formula that is paying off.

Quick Hits -For the third straight season, a member of the Kootenay ICE has demanded a trade in lieu of more ice time. Following the footsteps of Kyle Wanvig and B.J. Boxma, eighteen-yr-old utility forward Lance Morrison was granted his wish and traded to the Calgary Hitmen for the always popular, ‘Future Considerations’. Word is that the considerations are a middle round pick in next years bantam draft . . . Once again the curse of the Kootenay ICE scholastic award has relegated another player to trade bait. When Lance Morrison was traded, it continued an eery tradition for the top student of the Kootenay ICE. Beginning back with the club’s days in Edmonton, player’s Jeff Zorn, Craig Priestlay, Nick Marach, Tyler Dyck and now Lance Morrison have all won the scholastic player of the year award and have all been traded the following season. Maybe whoever wins it this summer should respectfully decline. That or tank their finals if they want to stay with the club . . .

For my money, the top heavyweight in the league is now Blazers forward Colton Orr. Discuss amongst yourselves . . . Next up for the ICE is Wednesday at home against the Red Deer Rebels and Saturday against the Prince George Cougars. Game times at the ‘Plex is 7:00 P.M. . . . In a cruel twist of scheduling fate, after the Cougar game on Saturday the ICE hop the bus for an 881km trip to Portland for a game less than twenty hours later.