ICE back home as National Champions

By Jeff Bromley

At the beginning of June 1998 the talk on the street had reached almost an elated state, in less than two weeks it would be announced officially that a WHL franchise would be relocating to Cranbrook.

Almost four years to day later the Memorial Cup, in its glory as the symbol of major junior hockey supremacy, stands proudly in front of the team who carried it high over their heads triumphantly in their return to the Key City, the Kootenay ICE. It sits on a stage in an arena that, along with the hockey club, the five banners and trophies and an estimated 2500 enthusiastic supporters, four years ago might have well as been just a pipe dream of some crazy hockey fans.

It’s almost enough to make you pinch yourself.

The Kootenay ICE returned home victorious from the Memorial Cup in Guelph, Ontario with junior hockey’s famed chalice in tow Monday with a championship rally and parade awaiting them Tuesday at the Cranbrook Rec./Plex. It was a chance for the Kootenay faithful to experience in person something they’d been watching on T.V. for the better part of a week – the Memorial Cup.

Going into the tournament, captain Jarrett Stoll and his teammates didn’t know much of their opponents but did know a lot of themselves and used that to their success. “You don’t really know who you’re playing against,” said Stoll. “They’re kind of blank faces and you don’t know what kind of players they are. The coaching staff does the best job they can to prepare you that way but the bottom line is you don’t know who you’re playing. You’ve just got to go out there and play what got you to that point. Play how we did in the playoffs, that was our mind-set going in. Just play what got us to this point and if we’re holding that Cup at the end then so be it.”

Sunday’s final against Victoriaville, a 6-3 win over the Tigres, was a game Kootenay dominated from start to finish. Although the club suffered a 3-2 meaningless loss against the Tigres in the round-robin, Kootenay didn’t change a thing in preparing to face QMJHL squad a second time. This time around however the game meant significantly more.

“You can’t change your game-plan or your style of play. The Guelph game we changed it for about half a period and it burned us a bit. We had a great game-plan from the coaching staff and they did a great job and us players just played and had fun with it. That final game (against Victoriaville) we were just having fun out there.”

Fun is a concept long on the mind of twenty-yr-old defensemen Cole Fischer as the smile on the face of the Luseland, Sask. native has yet to be worn off. Fischer, determined he wasn’t coming home without the cup after his third try, still has trouble grasping the club’s first championship. “I still can’t believe we won it,” said Fischer. “I don’t think it really set in until we got to Sparwood on the bus and the people were actually stopped along the side of the road, waving and the fact that we had a police escort all the way home. After the parade and banquet tonight I think that’s when it’ll set in and realize what we accomplished.”

Colin Sinclair, the fan’s consensus for team MVP at the Memorial Cup, and his teammates amid hundreds of youngsters and fans on the Rec./Plex playing surface desiring signatures and pictures for scrapbooks, spoke highly of his comrades in bringing home the championship. “We all stepped up and played great,” said Sinclair, always the humble before accepting the praise. “B.J. stood on his head and we wouldn’t have got to the final four if it wasn’t for him. The defense played unbelievable and when you’ve got a defense like that it makes our jobs as forwards that much easier.”

“We really came together at the (Memorial Cup) and it all worked out.”

Teammate Richard Hamula concurred and said throughout the club’s roller coaster – season the ending just couldn’t get any better. “We went through a lot of adversity this year,” said Hamula. “We made some big trades and got some key players here and ended up with a championship team.”

Quick Hits -The professional future of at least three Kootenay ICE players is on the deadline this week. By June 1, Craig Weller (St. Louis), Girard Dicaire (Buffalo) and Jarrett Stoll (Calgary) must be signed to NHL contracts. If they remain unsigned Weller, 20, will become an unrestricted free agent while Dicaire, 19, and Stoll, 19, will go back in the NHL Draft at Toronto on June 22. All three players’ status is still up in the air but the grapevine has Stoll ready to ink a contract with the Flames by today (Friday) . . .

The Kootenay captain will also host a charity golf tournament in his hometown of Yorkton, Sask. on July 18. The Special Olympics are the beneficiary and many of his former teammates as well as present and former WHL players are expected to attend . . . Twenty-yr-old Cranbrook native Jeremy Mitchell, who played for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the BCHL this past season has received a full scholarship to NCAA Div. 3 St. Norbert College Green Knights in De Pere, Wisconsin. Mitchell, a forward, tallied 19 g, 26 a, in 53 games.