Now that the regular season has wound up and the playoff match-ups set, from a Kootenay ICE perspective of the chase for the division pennant, you’d wonder what all the fuss was about.
Almost conceding the B.C. Division regular season crown to the Kamloops Blazers with only two weeks to go, the ICE decided to make a race out of it by clawing back from a nine-point deficit to a mere point differential with one game to go. Alas, it was not meant to be.
Then again, did it really matter whether the club finished first or second?
Yes, no and maybe. The club did secure home-ice advantage for at least the first round of the WHL playoffs and the second seed in the Western Conference. However, Kootenay G.M. Jeff Chynoweth wasn’t overly disappointed that the ICE didn’t catch Kamloops for pennant. “No disappointment at all,” said Chynoweth on the eve of the playoffs. “We had the second best record in the WHL from the trade deadline on (17-6-2), only Red Deer was better. We’re second in the league in goals-for during that time-frame and third-best in goals against average, so when you’re talking about rounding your game into shape, just like in the past two years when we finished the year strong, it’s a good thing heading into the post-season.
“Getting first or second really didn’t matter. We would’ve played Prince George or Kelowna anyway.”
The Prince George Cougars or Kelowna Rockets, two teams not exactly synonymous with the ICE in terms of rivalry. In fact, Prince George and Kootenay have never even met in the post-season. Historically in Cranbrook, no rivalry can often translate into less interest at the gate as best exemplified by Game One of the Eastern Conference semifinal against the Moose Jaw Warriors last season which drew a crowd of just over 2900, more than 700 below last season’s average. It’s something the Kootenay G.M. voiced concerns about when the club made the jump to the Western Conference’s B.C. Division last summer.
“No, it’s still the same concerns and I can give out the same lines and you can fill out the same story. It’s still a concern to me,” quipped Chynoweth. “If you look at all the first round match-ups there’s one that’s six hours. That’s Brandon-Saskatoon. If you looked at it, I don’t think there’s another one (travel-wise) that’s over four hours and forty minutes. We’re a ten hour trip. Ten hours with no rivalry.”
Rivalry or not, Chynoweth knows what one of the most important aspects to success in the playoffs is – winning on the road. And doing that, whether it’s in Prince George, Portland or Kelowna, will be paramount.
The club will get a taste of that road cooking when the series shifts to the Northern B.C. city for games three, four and five. A 2-3-2 format that can shift the advantage heavily to the Cougars if P.G. gets the split in Cranbrook, even though the ICE still host four games if necessary. “The league left it up to us what we wanted to do concerning the format. Either a 2-3-2 or a 3-3-1 if we split or 2-2-1-1-1, we just felt that to be fair to our players in our room that 2-3-2, although it’s not perfect, would be a better format,” said Chynoweth.
“To win in the playoffs, you have to win on the road. You look at the year we won the championship we were 9-2 on the road and 7-3 at home, so you’ve got to win on the road sometime, there’s no better way than to start it right off.”
If it sounds like the first-year G.M. is somewhat anxious to get the second season started, you’re right. The architect of this year’s version for the ICE is chomping at the bit and thinks his club is ready and able to make a deep run into the post-season.
“I would like to think so,” said Chynoweth, who’ll actually miss the club’s first two games against the Cougars to scout a Bantam tournament in Regina and then rejoin Kootenay for its trek north.
“It’s a great time of year to be playing hockey. If you can’t get excited about playing right now then you shouldn’t be here. We’ve got the third-most playoff experience of any team in the post-season. We’ve got a lot of guys that have been there, to a Memorial Cup, WHL Championship and the playoffs. You hope that would feed the young guys who haven’t been around it, to get them ready for this week and the preparation that’s involved.
“The players have to sacrifice for the next 6-8 weeks but the prize at the end is worth it.”
Quick Hits – ICE Forward Igor Agarunov, who missed last weekend’s games against Red Deer due to a mild concussion suffered against the Vancouver Giants, has been cleared to play. Much to the chagrin of both the ICE coaches, management, Iggy’s line-mates and perhaps the Cougars. The fourth line of Dale Mahovsky, Kyle Sheen and Igor Agarunov has been successful since the triumvirate got together in January. Take one away however and the whole combination collapses. When Mahovsky missed a game recently the other two couldn’t get anything going and the result was the same with Agarunov out of the lineup . . . Game One of the WHL Playoffs goes tonight (Friday) against the Prince George Cougars. Fans are encouraged to wear white to create an ‘Avalanche of White’. The puck drops at 7 P.M.