In the end, the one many thought might be the difference in the series just wasn’t enough. At the other end, the one many thought might not be the difference, was. And even now, on the eve of the WHL Championship series against the Red Deer Rebels, Kootenay goaltender B.J. Boxma still has those who wonder if the overage puck-stopper has what it takes. After all, the B.J. Bandwagon has seen its share of passengers jump on and off during the 2002 WHL Playoffs.
You can stop wondering any longer because it’s May and if you’re still playing WHL hockey, you’ve got to be doing something right.
B.J. Boxma showed any and all detractors that he indeed belongs among the league’s elite last Friday after a decisive 3-0 shutout of the Kelowna Rockets and a 4-1 Western Conference series win in guiding the Kootenay ICE to it’s second WHL Finals in three years. “We’re not done yet,” said Boxma. “We’ve got one more series to go and four more wins to get.” After the win Boxma felt both elation and vindication in his play but admitted his sights are clearly set on the WHL championship. “I think it puts me one step closer, for sure but I’ve always had doubters even when it was my turn to start (with Kootenay in 1999) and Blackburn came in, I’ve always had those doubters. I just wanted to come into the playoffs and go on another run like last year, only longer. This (series win) is just another step closer.”
One hopes the affable goaltender hasn’t hit the plateau on Kootenay’s run to the championship but the Edson, Alta. native did exercise a lot of demons in one fail swoop with the win over the Rockets. Not only has he proved he can be rock solid between the pipes in a big playoff run but Boxma managed to beat his old friend and goaltending opponent for the first time at the junior level. “The feeling is unbelievable,” offered Boxma on the chance to turn the tables on his old friend after last season’s loss. “Last year his team took ours out but I really didn’t get a chance to talk to him other than when we were shaking hands. I wished him good luck as he’s signed already (with the NHL’s Columbus BlueJackets) and won’t be in this league (next season) but hopefully I’ll get the chance to play against him again one day, you never know. Right now I’m not too worried about that.”
In standing tall for the Rockets throughout these WHL playoffs, Shane Bendera carried on the post-season heroics against the ICE in facing 162 shots over the five game series. But in facing more rubber than a city drag-strip, even last year’s WHL Playoff MVP couldn’t turn back Kootenay’s offensive assault. “He played well,” said Kelowna coach Mark Habscheid in a monumental understatement of Bendera’s play. “There’s no question they played better than us but having said that we really didn’t get on track the whole series. I don’t know what it was but we couldn’t get it going. We played maybe a period and a half of where we thought we should be but we just couldn’t get it going.”
“It’s disappointing from that standpoint but Shane was the guy that played very well for us.”
The soft-spoken Rocket coach remarked that the series loss was more about the inability of his charges to get any offensive pressure mounted and the little available room through the neutral zone was the difference. “They really outnumbered us in the neutral zone,” said Habscheid. “We didn’t have a lot of room and when we had the puck we were outnumbered and couldn’t generate much. When we did dump, we were standing still so we couldn’t generate any pressure, that probably was the difference right there.”
Kootenay coach Ryan McGill echoed his counterpart’s statement’s in that rather than Bendera keeping the Rockets in it all series long, Kootenay played a better all around game throughout the series. “I think we came out cautious,” said McGill of his club’s start to the series clincher. “I think the reason we came out cautious is because the guys knew how important it was to play our systems and play the way we did the other night (in game four). I think the guys wanted to make sure that we played that way.
“It took them a couple of shifts to get into that mode but by no means were our guys thinking ahead or cocky or overconfident. They just wanted to make sure they were doing the right things at the start of the game.”
Quick Hits – Kootenay coach Ryan McGill has had it with the questions surrounding the capabilities of his goaltender B.J. Boxma. When asked if the series win would finally silence the goaltender’s detractors, McGill had a terse statement. “I said this (on local T.V.) as well, I hope that B.J. stuck it up a few peoples’ (expletive deleted) because he’s been a rock for us.” …
For the first time in the 2002 WHL Playoffs Kootenay will concede home ice advantage. The league championship will open Friday at the Centrium in Red Deer. Game time is 7:30 P.M. Game two goes Saturday also in Red Deer. Games three and four will be Tuesday, May 7 and Wednesday, May 8 at the Rec./Plex. Game time 7:00.