Hitmen Freeze up against ICE

By Jeff Bromley

Coming off a 3-2 overtime win in Lethbridge, the Kootenay ICE kicked off their home debut of the 2001 exhibition season against an old rival that hardly needed any introduction, the Calgary Hitmen. If the weekend’s exhibition series are any indication, the loss of goal scoring through the graduation of high-scoring forwards such as Bret DeCecco and Zdenek Blatny from last season isn’t of any concern to the ICE. Outscoring their big-city rivals by a combined score of 15-5 over the two game, home and home set (with Calgary’s home date being in Okotoks), Kootenay’s scoring came from the usual suspects, some pleasant surprises and a fresh face in the name of Nigel Dawes.

At the home date on Saturday the local squad came out a little flat and had trouble measuring up against a Hitmen squad loaded with toughness. During the first ten minutes of the first frame a total of six players saw the showers early as fisticuffs between Brennan Evans and Robin Gomez, Steve Makway and Mike Egener and Andy Thompson and Wes Rypien highlighted a first period that ended in a one-one stalemate. The second and third frames were marked by one thing – goals. Five in the second and four in the third to be exact as the ICE dusted off the Hitmen by a count of 10-4. The good thing about exhibition is that if you lose, it’s just that, exhibition. If you win it’s a sign that things are going right and there are lots of positives to build on but it’s still preseason. That attitude was echoed by ICE assistant coach Cory Clouston who took over the reigns of head coach for Saturday night’s tilt. “In general, I thought the guys played well,” said Clouston. “They worked hard. I think that the first few minutes Calgary came out with a lot of intensity and it took us a few minutes before we got our level of intensity up to match theirs.”

Clouston was quick to note that this version of the Calgary Hitmen was a far cry from the club fans would see in the regular season. “I don’t think that this club (Calgary) is on a down-slide at all,” said Clouston. “I think they’re a very competitive hockey team and they were missing I think six or seven hockey players (at various NHL camps).

“It’s an exhibition game and tomorrow could be a totally different game…. despite the lopsided score, their young guys competed hard.”

Exhibition game or not two young players, one a rookie and the other a sophomore made a definite impression on the ICE faithful with four point outings. For Nigel Dawes and Adam Taylor it was a great way to show the ICE brass the future is in capable hands. “I think I got a couple of nice bounces today and everything seemed to go in the net,” said Dawes of his four goal outburst. Since day one of the ICE rookie camp Dawes has shown flashes of brilliance for a 16-yr-old on the offensive side of the ledger. And so far in the young WHL pre-season the product of Winnipeg has shown the promise of a gifted goal-scorer who is making the adjustment to the speed and size of the players in the WHL. “In rookie camp I knew what to expect from last year,” said Dawes. “Going into main camp it was something completely new because I’ve never experienced it before.

“I guess I’m trying to come up here and do what I do best. It’s not so much the physical game but rather just trying to put the puck in the net and help out offensively.”

Adam Taylor, the second-year center out of Courtenay, B.C. played probably his best game as a WHL’er and admitted that his confidence is way up this year. “I have a lot more confidence on the ice this year,” said Taylor whose eligible for this year’s NHL Draft.. “Especially from games like this, even though it’s only exhibition, it helps the confidence lots. “This year I’m a little bigger than last year and I think that the increased size helps me with my balance and makes me take a hit a lot better and when I have the puck I can handle a lot more.”

Ice Chips – In Saturday night’s game Marek Svatos left early in the third after being hit by Calgary’s Johnny Boychuk. In Sunday’s tilt in Okotoks Colin Sinclair left late in the first after an open ice hit by Calgary’s Tyler Johnson that was deemed a kneeing infraction. Johnson was assessed a five minute major and game misconduct. Both players injuries were not serious…. Marek Svatos left this week for Hershey, P.A. to play at the Colorado Avalanche farm club’s camp as the main camp for the defending Stanley Cup champions is being held in Sweden… Kyle Sheen missed both dates against Calgary due to a groin injury. He is expected to play in the home and home series against Spokane this weekend… Kootenay’s leading scorers through three games of the preseason are Dawes with 8 pts and Lance Morrison and Adam Taylor with 5 pts each… The ICE are in Spokane on Friday and entertain the Chiefs at the ‘Plex on Saturday at 7PM.