Down and up weekend for ICE

By Jeff Bromley

Down and up weekend for ICE

If they crowned the Memorial Cup champions on paper, it would be easy to see why the Kootenay ICE were ranked number one in the CHL’s Top Ten rankings. Incredible firepower on offense, size and presence on the blueline and depth and experience between the pipes. Fortunately or not, the games are played on the ice and in reality, or at least well into the season, the initial rankings mean little.

The Kootenay ICE found that out when they began the 2001-02 WHL season with a home and home series with the Spokane Chiefs and came out on the short end of the stick on both occasions by a score of 5-4 and 5-2, respectively. Rebounding on Sunday as the ICE hosted the Tri-City Americans and answered their first two losses with a punctuated shellacking of the Americans, 7-0.

Kootenay coach Ryan McGill, although disappointed at the first two losses to the Chiefs stressed that the club is still in the formative stages of development and obviously nobody was going to push the panic button so early on in the season. Especially in light of the convincing win over the Americans to end the weekend on a positive note. “There were not any changes,” said McGill of the better result between the Chief’s games and Sunday night’s tilt against Tri-Cities. “We’re still trying to get some line combinations going that we feel are solid and we still haven’t come up with those yet.

“We feel that everybody can play and everybody can contribute – even the young guys – that’s how good they are”

“But we didn’t change anything, I think that the guys just stepped up. We’ve got a group of new kids here that we’re trying to filter into the different lines… Tomas (Plihal) is new and we’ve got defensemen that didn’t play much last year and that are getting a lot of ice time this year. It’s going to take some time.

The guys have won with this game-plan and we won’t be changing anything.”

Time is something the ICE, and every other WHL team have a lot of as three games out of a 72-game schedule does not a season make. However the losses to the Chiefs did identify some shortcomings in their game that Coach McGill said can be rectified with practice time. “This is going to be a great week of practice for us. Now we finally everybody back together,” said McGill referring to the fact that important cogs in the ICE such as Jarrett Stoll and Jason Jaffray had only arrived for one practice and one preseason game, respectively, before the regular season began.

Sunday night’s game against the Americans was a homecoming of sorts as no fewer than four former members of Kootenay’s organization made their return to the ‘Plex for the first time. Former players Tyler Dyck and Pat Iaonne, marketing guru Scott Clark and of course former ICE G.M. Bob Tory all made the trip with the Americans renewing ties with old friends and teammates now on the opposite side of the ice and press box. Upbeat before the contest as the Americans were coming off a big opening night win against the Portland WinterHawks, Bob Tory’s mood was a somber one after the feeble effort his new charges provided in his old stomping grounds. Caught out of position, out-skated, outplayed and out-hustled throughout the night, Tory was not happy with his club that managed only 15 shots on ICE rookie Bryan Bridges who stopped all them for his first WHL win and first WHL shutout. “They were flat,” Tory stated rather bluntly. “You don’t want to make excuses but what happened tonight is that Kootenay taught us very good lesson and you’d hope that your veteran players take something from this and realize the commitment that’s necessary to play at the top level and play back to back game and play one of the best teams in Canada. Kootenay’s ranked number one for a reason and they taught a lesson in hockey tonight.”

Quick Hits – Marek Svatos leads the ICE in scoring after three games with six points (4g, 3a). Newcomer Tomas Plihal is right behind him with five points (2g, 3a). Apparently Plihal, who was named third star on Sunday night is not familiar with the N. American tradition of the three-star process. After calling his name and nobody showing up on the ice for the customary skate, second star Marek Svatos grabbed Plihal and sent him on the ice. Not knowing what to do Plihal ended up skating around most of the ice looking for an award or something. Not to take advantage of the Slovak who perhaps as yet to adapt to N. American traditions but it was the funniest thing I had seen in a long time….Coach McGill needn’t have to worry about the club’s special teams as the ICE clicked for a 40% clip on the power-play and had a 93% success rate on the penalty-kill…. Seventeen-yr-old Tri-City goalie Tyler Weiman shouldn’t be faulted for the massacre on Sunday.

The highly-touted goaltender (in which I counted about fifteen scouts in the stands undoubtedly watching) hung in and made several saves that otherwise might’ve made the score much worse than it was… ICE goalie Bryan Bridges is the youngest player in the league this year. He doesn’t turn sixteen until December 27…. Richard Hamula, who suffered a monster open ice hit courtesy of the Am’s Derek Atkinson in the first period and didn’t return and has a slight concussion and will be evaluated this week….Coach McGill still doesn’t have everybody back in ICEland as goalie Dan Blackburn is still with the N.Y. Rangers and by all accounts is shining. Is it just me or is anybody else getting a little worried Blackburn might actually make the Rangers squad?…. Next for the ICE are the Calgary Hitmen who are in town this Saturday to renew acquaintances at 7P.M. at the ‘Plex.