Buoyed by the pyrotechnics, the electric atmosphere of a building full of fans numbering almost 4500-strong, championship banners and Memorial Cup rings that could double as free-weights in the gym due to their sheer girth, the Kootenay ICE 2002-03 home-opening weekend saw the defending champs hold leads over both Swift Current and Lethbridge for 59 minutes and twenty seconds.
The other forty or so seconds of both games the Key City club would probably rather forget.
Surrendering tying goals to former teammate Aaron Rome on Saturday and Hurricane sniper and budding rap artist Jeremy Jackson in the dying seconds of Sunday’s contest, both weekend tilts offered a little overtime for the Kootenay faithful, although they probably didn’t want it.
Settling for a tie against the Broncos Saturday night after riding the heroics of sophomore starter Bryan Bridges, who stopped 42 of 44 shots, the replay Sunday night against the Hurricanes would cost the ICE as converted forward Simon Ferguson would put the unassisted winner past rookie Jeff Glass in his first WHL start at 1:48 of overtime.
Although disappointed, head coach Cory Clouston wasn’t about to blow his top at blown leads, not yet anyway.
“They pulled their goalie and had an extra attacker out both times and we had to have done a better job of clogging up the middle and taking away the shooting lanes,” said Clouston, after seeing his club give away one goal leads in both games.
“All both team’s did is basically wrist the puck at the net and had guys standing there to bang the rebounds in.”
“We have to do a better job of that by first of all, not sitting back. I thought we had enough opportunities to put the nail in the coffin but we didn’t and it came back to haunt us.”
With the weekend’s theme being the obvious celebration of the club’s accomplishments just four months ago, it was the former teammates doing the haunting as Rome potted the tying marker for the Broncos backed the strength of former Kootenay tender Jeff Harvey stymying chance after chance as the ICE went an uncharacteristic 0-8 on the power-play.
Sunday saw the prodigal return of defenseman Andy Thompson, who requested a trade last month after leaving the club battling a form of depression during last season’s WHL playoffs.
Thompson, who was a force all night and logged over twenty-five minutes on the Hurricanes blueline, looked like he hadn’t missed a beat and made his former mates pay with an assist on Jackson’s tying goal.
Kootenay’s blueline however, guilty of a mental errors in both games that could be forgiven due to the young season, couldn’t find their own rhythm to combat opposing forwards on both nights.
19-yr-old blueliner Curtis Fransoo, this season a solid number 3 or 4 d-man after seeing spot duty last year, felt the weekend was rather more of a hiccup than anything drastically wrong with the defensive corps. Learning from any mistakes being the key.
“I think we played a pretty solid game but we just let up the last few minutes,” said Fransoo. “That’s what we’ve got to improve upon the first couple of games of the year and get the jitters out. It shouldn’t be happening but things like that happen, we just have to correct them.”
Clouston preferred to look upon the things that went right over the weekend.
“There’s a lot of positives that can be drawn from the last two games,” said Clouston. “We were able to get the lead, the power-play had some excellent chances and we only gave up twenty shots (against Lethbridge). We had a couple two-on-ones and some half break-away’s but we just didn’t bury our chances.”
The banner-raising celebrations in abundance for the club, Clouston says it’s nice to have it over with and go on the road.
“We won’t have quite as many distractions obviously. This was a tough weekend for our guys to play, that’s not to make any excuses because they have to find a way, but on the road there’s a little more focus. This weekend we probably had upwards of seventy-five – eighty family members here and a social last night, so it’ll be good for us to get on the road.”
Quick Hits – Nigel Dawes scored three goals and added an assist for the weekend including a three point night against the Hurricanes… Saturday’s sold-out crowd of 4482 was the fourth largest in club history and the largest regular season crowd ever… The club’s next home action goes Wednesday, October 9 when the Tri-City Americans visit the Rec./Plex. The brothers’ Clouston, Cory of the ICE and Shawn, head coach of the Ams will meet for the second time in a week. Homegrown product Jim Hiller, now an assistant coach with Tri-Cities, also makes his coaching debut in Cranbrook. Game time is 7:00 P.M.