If winning a championship is like building a house of cards, it’s success dependant on a solid foundation, a team’s defense will dictate whether or not it will be the last structure standing at the end of the season.
Last season, that structure was built on a pair of stilts in Craig Weller and Cole Fischer. This season, the consistency of solid, physical play missing within Kootenay’s own end on many a night, the biggest card in the deck was dealt.
Accused too many times of folding under the pressure this season when it mattered most, Steve Makway, shouldered with the number three position on the defensive depth chart and expected to lead the club in the physical department with his 6’5″ frame, was traded last Tuesday to the Tri-City Americans, along with Kootenay list player out of Beaver Valley of the KIJHL, 17-yr-old Matt Schneider, in exchange for 19-yr-old defenseman Brad Zanon.
The trade, coupled with the addition of blueliner Craig Zubersky who’s played all six games with the club on the Prairie road trip, will present a very different look when the club returns home to face the Spokane Chiefs November 15. Despite the roster moves ICE G.M. Jeff Chynoweth thought the defensive unit as a whole had played satisfactorily but made no mistake about the fact there were shortcomings.
“The defensemen as a group played well,” said Chynoweth from Yorkton, Saskatchewan where he and Assistant G.M. Roy Stasiuk were scouting a Midget tournament. “We always expect the best (but) Steve’s a big guy and I don’t think I have to tell you how the fans of Cranbrook were definitely on him and how tough it was for him to play in our facility.”
“You and I spoke about this (last year) and even (former ICE rearguard)Trevor Johnson never seemed to get it that bad.”
What Chynoweth is alluding to were the catcalls and expressed disappointment, to put it mildly, that fans in the seats of the Cranbrook Rec Plex voiced at almost every opportunity when the 19-yr-old Makway made a defensive mistake. Which unfortunately for the Warfield, B.C. product, was happening at an alarming rate.
“Steve started off the year very well,” said Chynoweth. “But he’d struggled in the last six or seven games.”
Makway had seen more ice-time, including a spot on the number one power play unit, than at any other time in his WHL career, amassing 2 goals and 12 assists and a minus 1 in 21 games. But it was the physical aspect that was clearly lacking in front of the club’s net that became a sticking point for both the fans and eventually, G.M. Chynoweth. While surely not always Makway’s fault, the 6’5″, 215 lb. gentle giant took the barrage of criticism for the lack of physical play.
“No question about it, when you’re 6’5″ and a half and in our number three position, we expected him to be a little more of a complete player,” said Chynoweth.
The addition of Zanon, a native of Port Moody B.C. is expected to shore up that physical presence on Kootenay’s blueline.
“He’s a four-year guy with over a hundred penalty minutes in each of the last two years,” said Chynoweth. “He can also contribute offensively just like Steve did and we think it’ll round out our defensive unit.”
Assembling a 2-2-1record on its longest road trip of the season before Friday’s game in Brandon against the Wheat Kings, Kootenay’s road along the way has been as bumpy off the road as much as it’s been on it. Additions, subtractions and the suspension of one of the team’s leaders in Duncan Milroy after a 4-2 loss against Swift Current has characterized this road trip as anything but routine.
“Duncan put his own interests above those of the team and broke some team rules and it will not be tolerated,” said Chynoweth who wouldn’t elaborate on the transgression nor confirm whether Milroy would be in the lineup for the Brandon game after sitting out the tie against Moose Jaw. “He’s had these troubles before (last year both in Swift Current and Kootenay) and has to think long and hard on improving upon it.”