ICE win keeps club in pennant hunt

By Jeff Bromley

At the beginning of Tuesday night’s game at home against the Vancouver Giants the Kootenay were just three points back of the B.C. Division leading

Kamloops Blazers with three games to play in the regular season. At the end of the night Kootenay was just a point back of the Blazers with only two games left for each. Just over a week ago the Blazers were nine points up on the ICE, had a game in hand and had the division pennant all but hanging in the rafters of SportMart Place.

What a difference a week makes.

While the Blazers were in the process of losing their fourth straight to a Calgary Hitmen club that has now clinched a playoff spot in the WHL’s Central Division, the Kootenay ICE were having difficulty dispensing a pesky Vancouver Giant club that didn’t want to go away quietly. For the Giants the game was played purely for points in the pride column. Forced out of the playoff picture by a loss against the Seattle Thunderbirds last Friday, players on the coastal expansion squad were playing for jobs on the club next fall. That fact didn’t deter the club from being a thorn in the side of the ICE all night long. Being down by score of 2-0 and 4-1 and Kootenay poised to put them away for good, the Giants made things interesting and were down by only a 4-3 count with less than two minutes to play in the third frame before Kootenay put it out of reach with a 6-3 verdict on goals that included a fade-away lob-shot by Cole Fischer that fooled Giant netminder Jordan McLaughlin and an empty-net marker by Nigel Dawes.

Kootenay defensmen Girard Dicaire, who chipped in with two assists, garnered second star honors and was a force on the ICE blueline all night long, knew that the win was an ugly one and admitted that the club had a hard time getting up for the Giants. “Yeah, it’s hard, but also it shouldn’t be,” said Dicaire of the win which could best be described as painful. “It should be a big game for us. We’re coming down the stretch and going into the playoffs and the key for us right now is to be playing sixty and developing good habits for the playoffs.

“We came out a little slow tonight, we had only one shot in the first ten minutes but it came around. We might have played at their level tonight and taken a bit of a step back but I think will be alright.”

ICE head coach Ryan McGill didn’t seem out of sorts due to the lackluster effort put forth by his charges but rather thought the Giants played a good road game. A gameplan that had Kootenay at times bottled up in the neutral zone and caught the ICE trying to be too cute in and around the Vancouver net, especially on numerous scoring chances down low. That said, a win is a win that is something the club has been doing a lot of lately. “The best thing about it is that lately we’ve been finding ways to win,” said McGill. “We got to do that in the playoffs obviously day in and day out. We want to play a long time, we want to play until the end of May.”

Tuesday’s effort against the Giants however the fiery coach had his misgivings but gave credit to a Vancouver club that was clearly playing for next year. “When you don’t have anything to play for besides your jobs next year, you’re a little bit cautious,” added McGill. “They played well and the first five or six minutes they bottled us up well.

“The best thing about tonight is that it sets us up for the two big tests on the weekend against Red Deer that will get us right into playoff mode. That’ll be huge for us.”

Quick Hits – A couple of firsts occurred on Tuesday night as the Giants’ Mark Ashton, a 16-yr-old d-man out of Sherwood Park, Alberta scored his first-ever WHL goal to open Vancouver’s scoring. Ashton is also a former teammate of Kootenay forward Dale Mahovsky. The two played together for the Ft. Saskatchewan Ranger ‘AAA’ Bantams last season. Not to be outdone, ICE d-man Curtis Fransoo potted his first-ever WHL goal with a shot from the point that got by Giant goaltender Jordan McLaughlin. Fransoo’s marker was the eventual game-winner… Igor Agarunov left the game in the first frame with a concussion. He’s listed as day-to-day. Jarrett Stoll was also hobbled in the third period but finished the game. Stoll’s minor injury caused Coach McGill to quip, “That’s the last time I can tell you about injuries,” keeping alive the time-honored tradition of teams keeping the health of their players during the playoffs Top Secret…

Helping Kootenay’s cause in chasing the Blazers for the B.C. Division Pennant were the former Central Division foes, the Calgary Hitmen. The Hitmen clinched a playoff berth with a 6-4 win over the Blazers Tuesday night. The loss was the Blazer’s fourth in a row. At the other end of the spectrum, besides a 2-0 blemish against Lethbridge two weeks ago, Kootenay has quietly rattled off wins in nine of their last ten games… Next up for Kootenay is the Red Deer Rebels on Saturday night in the last regular season game for both clubs. Note the special early start for the game is 6 PM at the ‘Plex. The 2002 WHL Playoffs will start at home for Kootenay against Prince George or Kelowna next Friday, March 22.