Team suspensions hurt ICE

By Jeff Bromley

A sold-out crowd, the first for Kootenay this season, the Red Deer Rebels, the defending Memorial Cup Champions, the top team in the league and perhaps the country again this season, in town on a Saturday night, Kootenay coming on strong as a club that was starting to fulfill its early season hype as one of the top contenders in the CHL. Hollywood scriptwriters couldn’t set the stage any better.

Of course they could always leave out a few key actors.

One look at the game-night roster and there is a stunning omission; Duncan Milroy and Shaun Norrie, two huge cogs in Kootenay’s success in recent weeks, are healthy scratches. Western Conference All-Star and steady overage d-man Craig Weller and emerging winger Richard Hamula would be left in the stands of the Red Deer Centrium the following night and two more, defensemen Cole Fischer and forward Colin Sinclair will sit out Friday’s game in Portland against the WinterHawks. All suspensions the result of disciplinary action stemming from the six players breaking club rules of being in one of the Key City’s fine drinking establishments the Thursday prior to the weekend’s action.

The weekend’s results? A 6-4 Rebel win Saturday that was a seesaw shootout from the start with only an empty-net marker by Rebel forward Boyd Gordon to seal the win. Sunday’s tilt was a low scoring 3-2 affair in which two quick tallies by the Rebels halfway through the final frame earned the club the weekend sweep of the ICE. Although the games were hardly one-sided without the key personnel in the lineup, one wonders with the aforementioned players on the roster sheet, might the results have been different?

It a question Coach Ryan McGill knew the answer to. “Sure, Milroy and Norrie would’ve helped tonight but those guys made that decision when they broke team rules and unfortunately, maybe they were the two that we needed tonight,” said McGill after the 6-4 home loss Saturday. Ironically enough both Milroy and Norrie were the club’s highest point-getters against the Rebels this season with three each up until Saturday’s game.

“I hope they take a look in the mirror and figure that out. That goes for the other guys that are going to be dealt with as well.”

Clearly sending a message that team rules must be strictly adhered to, McGill said that it crossed his mind to delve out the punishment in perhaps a different way. Especially since the club is mired in a heated battle for playoff positioning with the other B.C. Division clubs. Each win or loss with consequences as to hosting either a first round opponent, thereby having home-ice advantage or starting on the road with some very tough buildings to play in. Of course having top players out in front of a sold-out crowd doesn’t help from a marketing standpoint either.”Sure it does,” replied McGill about using a different form of punishment. “You know what? You’re right. But at the same time, if you fine the guy(s) – there’s guys in that dressing room that money means nothing to them. Because their mom and dads fill their wallets every day and money means nothing to them.

“The reason we’re doing this is because we had a couple of guys early on in the year that broke the same rule and they had to sit. We’re doing it so that there’s some consistency there.

“What does that look like if we change now to the guys that had to sit earlier on? ,” McGill asked rhetorically. “I think that’s going to separate your team even more. We’re not trying to send a message as coaches. We’re trying to be consistent with the rules that were put in place to protect these kids and that hasn’t changed.

“I understand what you’re saying, but if we do that then there’s going to be a free-for-all.”

“At this point in the season it’s up to the players to make the sacrifices. They’re the ones that made the choices – the fans have a tough time of it because they think that the coaching and management staff are the bad guys. They’re the ones who made the choice. They knew the choice they made and they knew the consequences. If that’s not putting themselves ahead of the team, I don’t know what is and I think that’s the bottom line.”

Craig Weller who, along with the other five players who were involved in the impromptu nineteenth birthday celebration of Duncan Milroy, didn’t want to comment about it. “I don’t really want to talk about it. We broke the rules,” said Weller after practice on Tuesday. “Team rules are team rules and that’s about it.”

The ICE hit the road for the weekend as the club plays another three games in three nights set starting in Portland Friday before moving on to Seattle and Vancouver. Kootenay’s next home date is Tuesday, February 26th when they entertain division rival Prince George.