Kootenay in Memorial Cup Final

By Jeff Bromley

In the 2000 Memorial Cup in Halifax the Kootenay ICE couldn’t get a break. The big goal wouldn’t come, the bad call the other way didn’t happen. It was an appearance in the national championship that a team from a strange place called Kootenay could only describe it as forgetful.

That was then, Guelph 2002 is most definitely now. In 2000 they couldn’t win, in 2002, it seems, they might not lose.

Spurred on by a 3-0 shutout of the OHL champion Erie Otters and a thrilling, last-minute 4-3 win over the host Guelph Storm to move into first place, coupled with Erie defeating Victoriaville 5-1 on Tuesday, Kootenay found themselves securing a berth in Sunday’s final only four days into the tournament.

So what’s different this time around? Just about everything says ICE President and majority owner Ed Chynoweth. “I think that this is a better team than we had in Halifax, said Chynoweth, he and the rest of the ICE organization fresh off a day long tour of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. “That’s not a slight on the (2000) team but this team is deeper and we have more guys pulling on the rope the same way. To date they’ve proven it.”

Call it fate, momentum or skill with a little bit of luck thrown in for good measure, in a round-robin tournament such as this, things either go you way or they don’t. A timely goal, a couple of posts, a call here, a call there, Chynoweth admits things have been going their way for his club at the ’02 Memorial Cup but he gives credit where credit is due. “I said the same thing this morning,” offered Chynoweth. “Maybe fate is dealing us in for a change but certainly this team doesn’t panic. They’re on a mission and they’ve been that way for some time. Coming back against Red Deer and against Prince George, they don’t get overbearing on the ‘Rah, Rah’. They seem to be on a mission and maybe fate does play a part in it.”

Game one against the Otters was eerily similar to Kootenay’s first two games at the 2000 championship only with the roles reversed. QMJHL reffing or not, the Kootenay ICE couldn’t find or keep their composure against the host Halifax or the eventual champion from Rimouski in 2000. This time it was Erie and Guelph that had problems with discipline against the Key City squad and the frustration level mounted for both as the games wore on. For Kootenay, the story about this year’s entry into the annual tournament for supremacy in junior hockey is thankfully, not about the officiating. “I don’t think there’s any doubt it’s the better way to go,” said Chynoweth of the format of inviting officiating representatives from each of the WHL, OHL and QMJHL. “Ironically, we had this system when I first started in the (CHL). For whatever reason we decided we were going to recognize the referees in each league and we changed to it (host referees) and you saw what happened in Halifax.”

Adding to that frustration level was the stellar goaltending by B.J. Boxma. When he wasn’t stopping them, lady-luck had a hand in things as the Otters hit no less than three posts, causing long, hopeless glares to the heavens in search of an answer to Boxma’s goaltending.

In game two against the Storm, a club cooling their jets for five weeks after being eliminated in the first round of the OHL playoffs, the home team didn’t disappoint. The balanced attack of the Storm took the play to Kootenay for most of the first period and about nineteen minutes of the third.

A period that dogged Kootenay against the Red Deer Rebels in the WHL Finals where they were outscored and out-shot in the middle stanza 7-4 and 54-42, in Monday’s second period, the ICE turned that tendency around with a three-goal outburst within 1:01 to take a 3-1 lead over the Storm. The third period would see Guelph live up to their nickname and storm back with two markers to tie the game. It would also see the Storm dominate the Kootenay squad as the shots were 12-2 at one point in the final frame.

That is until Tomas Plihal received a banked breakout pass from Colin Sinclair that sent himself and Gerard Dicaire on a two on one break with less than a minute to go. With Dicaire caught from behind Plihal had no choice but to shoot and with that the Czech sniper rifled a bullet over the shoulder of Storm goaltender Andrew Penner for the game-winner. “Last night (Mon.) we got a little sloppy in our own end,” said the ICE owner from his hotel room in Guelph. “A couple times we took things a little easy instead of bearing down. In (both games) B.J. Boxma made some big saves the guys rallied around him.”

Quick Hits – The cheap-shot hit on ICE forward Nigel Dawes after the winning goal against the Storm has been officially protested by the club. Dawes was clothes-lined by Storm forward Malcolm MacMillan which then touched off a fight between ICE d-man Craig Weller and Storm forward Scott Rozendal. Any forthcoming discipline, if warranted, will be announced Wednesday . . .

If refereeing was a major complaint of Memorial Cups gone by, so far this year it has been a nonissue. The invited refs from the respective leagues have done a better job than in years past. After the round-robin portion an NHL official will grade the performance of the zebras and decide who gets to do the semi’s and final games . . . True to the center-of-the-universe attitude emitting from Rogers SportsNet in Toronto, not only was the time of Sunday’s first game against Erie changed so as to not go head to head with the Maple Leaf – Hurricane game, residents of the Kootenay’s couldn’t even watch the game live. Unless you had digital cable or a Canadian satellite dish the game you saw was a repeat telecast a 2:00 P.M… Sunday’s final goes at 10:00 A.M. local time on CTV.