ICE/Hitmen East Conference Final – WHL Playoffs

By Jeff Bromley

Hitmen on the Ropes

In the land of make-believe and movies, rarely does the sequel ever live up to the billing of the original blockbuster or the hype of the ensuing
drama posed by the second installment of a hit. If the first four games of ICE/Hitmen II – The WHL Freezes Over, are any indication, somebody
should call Hollywood because we’ve got a genuine hit on our hands.

After gaining a well-deserved split of the first two games of the series in Calgary, thus gaining home-ice advantage away from the Hitmen, the
series shifted back to the cozy, hostile confines of the Memorial Arena. Needless to say, more than 10.000 fans in the Canadian Airlines
Saddledome does not compare to 1703 fans jam-packed into the ‘Silverdome’. No, it does not compare in the obvious shear numbers advantage
enjoyed by the Hitmen faithful in the Saddledome. No, it does not compare with the comfortable seats, $5 beverages and popcorn and a
Jumbotron that tells you when you can cheer. Where it also doesn’t compare is it’s sheer ability to add another dimension to the home team’s
effort against the opponent.

Consecutive sellouts of 1703 screaming faithful (ok, hands up everybody who thinks that just 1703 were crammed into the joint on both nights.
Mr. Fire Chief you can put your hand down) were on hand to witness what was in all likelihood the two most exciting games seen in these parts
in some time. Two exhilarating wins by the Kootenay ICE by scores of 3-2 (all four games up until this point have been scored 3-2, it’s got to be
some kind of record) to put the ICE in a commanding 3-1 Eastern Conference Final series lead.

Game Three contained such end to end action that I wondered aloud if this emotional roller coaster of a game would end with the crowd still
breathing. A 2-2 seesaw battle that seemed destined for overtime due to the superb play in between the pipes of both the ICE’ Dan Blackburn
and the Hitmen’s Brent Krahn took a turn for the weird with 5:06 left to play in the third frame. Defensive standout Matt Walker took the puck on
the rush and entered the offensive zone with intentions for the Hitmen net going around the outside. Hitmen D-man Toni Bader viciously
checked the ICE defenseman into the end boards that luckily didn’t end up in a serious injury for Walker. The ensuing five minute power play
seemingly gave the ICE and their faithful the confidence that the game could be in hand. That confidence was shattered as one minute later with
Hitmen buzzing on the penalty kill the ICE drew not one but two penalties to find themselves out-manned 4 on 3. Then on a clearing pass from
just outside his own blueline, Chris Chubb sent a hard shot into the Calgary zone to relieve the pressure. Unaware or oblivious of Cranbrook’s
infamous end-boards, Hitmen goalie Brent Krahn went to play the puck behind the net. The puck proceeded to ricochet out into the slot where
Johnny on the Spot Wade Burt was skating full tilt to fire the biscuit past a diving Krahn. Thus, sending the jubilant crowd into absolute frenzy.

Fast-forward to game four, same venue, same situation – 24 hours later. Tied 2-2 in a game in which the Hitmen played desperation hockey buy
still somehow couldn’t put the overpowering ICE away. Enter overtime and more anxiety for the boisterous crowd who were slightly quieter on
the decibel scale if only because they were so hoarse from the night before. Alas, it was the ICE who dominated a short overtime with Captain
Mike Green, calling it “the biggest goal I’ve ever scored in my life – at any level”- potting the O.T. winner through a maze of sprawling players
with 2:16 gone in the extra frame. With the Hitmen on the edge of the abyss down 3-1 and the possible loss of stars Brad Moran and Pavel
Brendl, neither of which finished game four and were suspect for the fifth installment of the series, the outlook looks bleak for the Hitmen. If the
ICE can’t finish the Hitmen off in five I don’t know if the old girl can take another show like the ones witnessed this past week.