ICE in Eastern Conference Final against the Hitmen

By Jeff Bromley

Kootenay over Broncos/ICE – Hitmen Part II

It has been said that revenge is a dish best served cold. Perhaps that dish might even taste better served on ICE. It’s been one year since an
upstart Kootenay ICE club took the eventual Memorial Cup finalists to seven games in the opening round of the playoffs and it looks as though the
1999-00 edition of the ICE are going to be able to add another chapter to the epic known as the Kootenay ICE/Calgary Hitmen rivalry. Hopefully
this time with a better conclusion.

Going into the Eastern Conference final on a high note after overcoming the Swift Current Broncos in six games, the ICE/Broncos series
warranted being a proving ground to test the mettle of the Kootenay ICE players. Having to overcome series deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 against the
Broncos, the team survived and adjusted their game to match and defeat a talented, hard working, well disciplined Swift Current hockey club. A
key adjustment was made earlier in the series after the game one shocker in which the Broncos tenaciously forechecked the ICE and forced them
into bad decisions in their own zone. When they did get out of their own zone they found the neutral zone as crowded as a nightclub on cheap
night as the Broncos performed their own version of the ‘Left-wing lock’ and impeded the ICE’ transition game between the blue lines.
Responding to that defensive tactics of the Broncos, the ICE proceeded to make sounder and quicker decisions in their own zone and got the
upper hand on the Broncos by wearing them down by stepping up the physical game, then proceeding to wear Swift Current out by turning on
the jets of one of the team’s biggest weapon’s – sheer speed.

Facing the prospect of going down 3-1 on the road to the Broncos, the turning point in the series proved to be game four in Swift Current in
which the ICE turned deviance into discipline and played the aggressor in the physical department without taking the harmful penalties that
plagued them in game three. The series was marked by the fantastic play of the ‘Money Line’ of Svoboda, Blatny and Green, and the steady play
of Dan Blackburn. But unheralded performances of guys like Wade Burt, Graham Belak, Richard Hamula and the emergence of Jason Jaffray as a
dominant scoring threat made the difference against Speedy Creek.

So now, the dream series has finally begun. It’s what every Kootenay ICE fan, player, management type, media guy and mascot have been
wishing for since training camp broke way back in August. It’s the WHL city with the biggest arena against the WHL city with smallest. It’s the
WHL loudest and most boisterous crowd against the quietest and most subdued (I’ve been in churches with more energy than the Saddledome).
So, what is going to be the keys to this series? First off, familiarize yourself with some very familiar names. Namely, the top Hitmen line of Pavel
Brendl, Brad Moran and whomever is playing alongside them (most likely Jordan Krestanovich, maybe Matt Pettinger). Get used to the idea of
Brendl not having any trouble finding the ICE zone but having great difficulty locating his own. Look for Ratislav Stana to get the start over
Brent Krahn but if Stana falters, Hitmen coach Dean Clark probably won’t hesitate to start Krahn. The Hitmen will be coming of another one week
lay off and haven’t really been playoff tested as yet. It is key for the ICE to get on them early and often. The ICE have been through one long
series and are playoff tried and tested. Calgary could show signs of rust and be taken off guard.

Those of you waiting for the pugilistic summit between Graham Belak and Hitmen enforcer Stephen Peat will probably get your wish but it’s the
playoffs and discipline will be paramount. Saddle up and hang on because it’s going to be a series for the ages. This one going to be one you’ll
want to tell your grandchildren about.