Is this the end for Kootenay?

By Jeff Bromley

It’s the end of March and playoff fever taken hold around the Kootenay’s. Unfortunately, it’s become more of an illness rather than a euphoria to both the players and their fans.

Left untreated, this condition will prove fatal.

The Prince George Cougars shocked the Kootenay Ice, their fans and just about anybody but themselves after walking away from the Cranbrook Rec/Plex this past weekend with 4-1 and 3-1 wins respectively, and a 2-0 lead in their WHL Western Conference quarter-final. Facing the prospect of returning to the Prince George Multiplex for three consecutive games, the Cougars will be looking to wrap the series on home ice. Cougar head coach Ed Dempsey, who’s charges failed to win in either of the two occasions at the Rec/Plex during the regular season, including a lopsided 10-4 drubbing the last time the club visited the Key City, was more than satisfied at the two wins.

“We were looking for two solid efforts on the road and that’s what we got,” said Dempsey. “It was nice to win the first one and it gave us an opportunity for another strong effort in the second game.” Dempsey was guarded against overconfidence against the suddenly sputtering ICE and was quick to warn about complacency in the playoffs. “Let’s give some credit to our opponent, these guys have the most goals of any team in the WHL (second to the Medicine Hat tigers actually), you don’t do that without talent and they have some absolutely gifted forwards led by Jarrett Stoll. If we’re going to have any hope at all we better be able to look after our own end or you’re going to see what happens and the 10-4 game is a good example of that.”

Kootenay coach Ryan McGill wasn’t near as flattering to his troops. A frustrated offence that scored a paltry two goals against the Cougars on the weekend after averaging almost four a game (3.83) during the regular season, a power play that tied for first overall in the league (23.3%), that faltered to just one goal in thirteen tries over the weekend. Nothing seemed to go right for the ICE. “Unfortunately, it’s playoffs,” said McGill after game two Saturday. “No coach is going to be able to motivate that. Right now it’s up to them.”

“This is the time of year where you have to bring up your level. We’ve got some guys who have brought their level up and we’ve got other guys I’m not sure what they’re doing.”

Kootenay captain Jarrett Stoll realized that he is now leading a club that has been pushed to the edge and faces a long summer without at least two wins this week in Prince George. If they’re going to prolong this series, changes will have to be made – and fast. “I don’t know,” said a dejected Stoll after Saturday’s loss. “We have to change a lot because we’re out-shooting them, at some points we’re outplaying them. We’re up and down, we’re playing well one minute then we’re not.”

“It’s not a good situation right now and we have to change or we’re going home next week. It’s just not a good situation. “It’s a matter of changing our mind-set and our focus. If we outwork them we know we can beat them. We have the confidence we just have to believe that and go out there and prove it on the ice.

“Talk is cheap. It’s all supposed to on the ice right now and we’re not doing that.”

And the attitude in the dressing room going into a highly volatile Cougars den? “Just making sure that everyone believes and that we can’t quit. We’re down two nothing, there’s nothing we can do about that now. They’ve still got to win four games and it’s far from over yet and we realize that, hopefully they don’t. We’re going to go in there and battle for three games, it’s going to be tough.”

Quick Hits – It might’ve been playoff hockey in the Kootenay’s but apparently not a lot of people thought much of it. Considering the first two home dates were prime Friday and Saturday nights, the announced crowd was 2924 for game one and 3138 the next night – a full 300-500 off the regular season average… Coach Ryan McGill thought that the Cougar goals on Saturday were of the lucky variety. “I thought they got two lucky goals. We made two mistakes and they got lucky breaks out of it and that was the game.” Perhaps McGill was onto something. Before Friday’s game a group of Prince George players buried a lucky penny in the Canada Post logo on the Rec/Plex ice in front of their bench. An unidentified player was seen digging it out after game two. The way this series has gone maybe the Kootenay boys should something in the P.G. Multiplex ice – starting with Cougar tender Billy Thompson – he’s been stellar in the first two games.