In the end the stars had aligned, what was once wronged was now right, overtime proved to be the right time and the usually unlucky thirteen turned into a good luck omen.
Exactly two years to the thirteenth of May the Kootenay ICE did what many thought would not be done – they dethroned the defending Memorial Cup champion Red Deer Rebels 3-2 in double overtime and captured their second WHL Championship in three years, four games to two. Not only did the ICE gain three of their four series’ wins in extra-time but the club’s key cogs in the finals were the two players that sealed Kootenay’s playoff fate one year ago, Duncan Milroy and B.J. Boxma.
The shot that shook the Key City came off 2002 WHL playoff leading scorer and MVP, Duncan Milroy at 3:03 of double overtime. It was a wicked wrist-shot that fooled Rebel goaltender Cam Ward for the win and another banner in the Rec./Plex rafters this fall. “It was hard work by our ‘D’ to move the puck up quick,” said Milroy who took a rink-wide pass from Jarrett Stoll that started from a breakout feed by Gerard Dicaire. “I forget who even gave me the pass, it’s kind of a blurr in my memory but then I just stepped over the blueline and just took a wrist shot. To be honest, I never even saw where it went but then it went in – I’m so excited right now, it’s hard to put into words.”
The series’ winner and the spectacular play of B.J. Boxma were the culminations of blockbuster trade pulled off by Kootenay G.M. Jeff Chynoweth with Swift Current in December that brought Milroy and Boxma to the Key City, turning the team’s fortunes around and in the process putting it on destiny’s path. “Honestly, there’s no way that I thought (being champions) is where I’d be,” said Milroy. “I was still disappointed that I was leaving from one of the best teams in the league. I was going to another good team but with the ups and downs to it and to adjust right away was tough. To what it came to now, it’s just unbelievable. I can’t believe it’s come to this.”
If Duncan Milroy was the immediate hero of the moment, his counterpart between the pipes was finally the hero in the eyes of everyone who looked on with adulation. Amid chants of ‘B.J, B.J.’, it was Boxma who brought the fans out of their seats with heroic save after save, including a timely poke check that stopped a sure Colby Armstrong goal and then a spectacular save off Chris Neiszner, both in overtime. “It’s an unbelievable feeling right now. I can’t even describe it. I mean, they were calling my name,” said Boxma. “All the stuff I’ve gone through my whole career and to top it off with this – it’s unbelievable. It hasn’t even sunk in yet.” Of course the saves will be ones talked about by Kootenay faithful for years to come. “The puck just squirted out front and he (Neiszner) was trying to one-time it on his off-wing and I got a glove on it,” said Boxma of the save that pulled a record crowd of 4550 out of their seats. “I just rolled over and it happened to hit my pad and go over the net. I didn’t intentionally do it, I’d like to say I did but it’s just one of those things where you just get into the zone and good things happen for you.”
Another player short on the praise but seemingly always long on the blame, Kootenay defenseman Cole Fischer was rock solid all night and after putting in about fifty minutes of ice-time by conservative estimates, couldn’t feel his legs by the end. Fischer didn’t care as the Luseland, Sask. native would be embarking on his third Memorial Cup in five years. “Once it gets into overtime, I don’t know, you can’t even feel your legs but it doesn’t matter, nobody wanted to go back to Red Deer tonight,” said Fischer. “We stuck to it and gave everything we had in the end and we pulled it out, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.”
Duncan Milroy opened the scoring for Kootenay early in the first frame, putting the puck by a sprawled Cam Ward after a goal-mouth scramble. Mikail Yakubov tied it on a short-handed effort five minutes later. The Rebels went ahead 2-1 early in the second when Yakubov broke in alone on a Kootenay defensive miscue. The lead would last until another questioned trade acquisition paid off in spades as Shaun Norrie fired an unassisted shot at Ward that the Rebel netminder fumbled for the tying marker that shook the Rec./Plex foundation to its core. It would be a critical shift in momentum that tilted the ice in Kootenay’s favor.
A dejected Rebel coach Brent Sutter tried to express the disappointment felt for his charges. “They were the better team in this series,” said Sutter. “But I’m not saying that the best team is moving on they were just the better team in this series, which they had to be. Both teams matched up very well but they were one break from this series going to a game seven and that was on the second goal. But that’s hockey and I’m not a man of shoulda’s, coulda’s and woulda’s. It’s life – not death. Yeah, the kids are disappointed but I’m proud of the way our team battled all year.”
“We came back and played a hell of a game after having an off night in game five but they just felt a little bit short.”
Quick Hits – All games of the 2002 Memorial Cup from Guelph, Ontario will be broadcast live on Rogers SportsNet. Kootenay opens the tournament against the OHL champion Erie Otters on Sunday at 2:00 P.M. M.S.T. Their second game goes Monday at 2:00 against the host Guelph Storm and then Wednesday against QMJHL champion Victoriaville Tigres at 5:00 P.M.