B.J. Boxma has seen this scenario before.
Facing-off against Shane Bendera in the conference final, Boxma, then with the Swift Current Broncos and Bendera, then of the defending Memorial Cup champion Red Deer Rebels, will square off in the Western conference version of the goaltending sequel beginning Friday at 7:00 P.M. at the Cranbrook Rec./Plex. This particular match-up however hasn’t been limited to the WHL. Its roots begin almost ten years ago dating back to the peewee level and contrary to what most might believe, Shane Bendera only victory was last year’s conference final as the Bendera’s Rebels defeated Boxma’s Broncos in six games. “Actually a lot of players have been asking me about that,” said Boxma. “Me and him go way back. From when we were younger, playing against each other and last season, we’ve always had that competitive edge.”
“We know each other off the ice so it kind of jumps up the competitiveness a little bit more. I want to beat him. They (Red Deer) took us out last year and it was pretty heartbreaking. He had his chance last year, now it’s my turn.”
Boxma will be looking to draw on not only the success he’s had so far in the 2002 post season but also the history between the two goaltenders – one that falls in Boxma’s favor. “He (Bendera) was in K.C. (Knights of Columbus Squires – Alberta Bantam) and I was playing in Edson,” said Boxma. “We played each other lots at different tournaments in Bantam and even younger in Peewee.
“When I was in Bantam at Spruce Grove and he was in Bantam in K.C. he was always on the weaker teams and we always beat them. I don’t think he ever beat me but he did always play on worse teams. I think that’s why he’s so good now, he faced so many shots when he was younger.”
“Last year he had our number all year and I’m looking forward to playing him again.”
Still, on the eve of his second conference final in as many years, Boxma’s detractors are still waiting for the twenty-yr-old free agent to falter. Something Boxma has no plans to do nor get worked up over. “I thought last year I had a good season and a good playoff that probably got me the pro tryout in Minnesota (Wild – NHL). This year maybe I didn’t have the best regular season but I only had two fewer wins and maybe my stats weren’t as good but I just wanted to come into the playoffs and go on a run and show that I can play and go on to the next level.”
“The respect factor is just people’s opinions and if they don’t like who I am or how I play, that’s fine. I don’t really think about that stuff. Going on past Kelowna to the league final and maybe even onto the Memorial Cup might change their minds.”
Boxma’s teammate and team captain Jarrett Stoll has his own subplot across the ice with the Rockets in former World Junior teammate Chuck Kobasew. Both Stoll and Kobasew, who are Calgary Flames draft picks, could find themselves teammates once again come the Flames NHL training camp this summer. Right now though, any pleasantries have been clearly discarded.
“It’ll be good,” said Stoll of the head-to-head match up with Kobasew. “We got along pretty good with each other and have become pretty good friends over the last year and a half. We’re going to play hard against each other. We’re both competitive people. He’s on Kelowna and I’m on Kootenay and we’re just going to battle it out. It’ll be fun and we’ll probably talk about it over the summer.”
Stoll, after finishing the regular season red-hot, has cooled somewhat in the post season. A frustrating series against the Cougars netted the talented center only three assists but the Yorkton, Sask. native opened it up against the T-Birds by potting two goals and four assists in four games. Not the usual Jarrett Stoll numbers but an upward trend he take it nonetheless. “A little bit maybe,” said Stoll of feeling the pressure of not scoring. “But we have four lines in there that can score. It’s not considered a one or two line team or a couple that have to put the puck in the net. Some games I know that if our line doesn’t score that’s not going to mean the game. There’s other lines in there that can score and that’s huge for us right now. But I’m making sure the defensive game is in good shape and I’m not going out there and getting minuses and hurting the team in any way.”
“Maybe my role has changed a little bit but then again I’ve still got to put up the points to help the team win. Defense first and the scoring’s going to come.”
Piled on top of the playoff run for Stoll is the looming date of this June’s NHL Draft. A date in which that if he’s not signed by the Calgary Flames, Stoll will have to re-enter the draft, something Stoll would like to best avoid. Right now, it’s something Stoll’s not focusing on. “Not really,” said Stoll. “I take it as the longer we go the better chance I have to sign with somebody. Hopefully it’s Calgary but you never know, with the game of hockey you just never know sometimes.”
“I just worry about going on a long playoff run right here and hopefully going to the Memorial Cup and if that happens it’ll look good on a resume.”
Quick Hits – The Kootenay ICE suffered a blow to their stellar defensive unit when seventeen-yr-old defensemen left the club for what’s expected to be the rest of the season for personal family reasons . . . Contrary to published reports of late, Coach Ryan McGill has not signed a new contract with the ICE. “How much did I sign for? ,” quipped McGill about the unsubstantiated contract talk. Negotiations are expected to take place after the playoffs . . . Game two of the Western Conference Finals will go Saturday night at the Rec./Plex at 7:00 P.M.