ICE begin 16th straight playoff appearance
It’s seems a springtime given – the Kootenay ICE are in the Western Hockey League (WHL) playoffs.
It’s a feat no one should consider lightly. In a sports league where team player turnover can be extreme from one year to the next, it is stunning and amazing that the ICE are heading back to the dance for its 16th straight year, starting March 20 in Calgary against the Hitmen.
We spoiled Cranbrook and East Kootenay hockey fans have never known the ICE to miss the playoffs since the franchise re-located from Edmonton before the 1998/1999 season.
Huge kudos to general manager Jeff Chynoweth and his staff for once again showing keen eyes for talent and plugging slots on the team that help it reach the final eight each season. Things started poorly for the ICE earlier this season but Chynoweth added key pieces in Tim Bozon, Landon Cross, Zach Franko and Tyler King, as well as his own son Ryan during the season, addressing secondary scoring, experience on the blueline and size issues with the lineup.
The ICE finished the regular season in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, with a 39 win, 28 loss and 5 (overtime and shootout loss) record and 83 points. The concluded the season in a difficult way, suffering the loss of third leading scorer Tim Bozon to a shocking case of Meningitis. The club stuttered to a three loss and one extra time loss in its final four contests.
The Hitmen finished third in the East with a 48-17-7 (103 pts) record but the ICE won the season series 4-2-1-1.
Leading the way for the ICE this season was centre Sam Reinhart, who finished tied for fourth in scoring in the league with 36 goals and 69 assists (105 pts) in 60 games. Reinhart remains a strong candidate to be drafted first overall in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft.
Right winger Jaedon Descheneau was a pleasant surprise this season, finishing with 44 goals and 54 assists (98 pts) in 70 games. He meshed brilliantly with Reinhart but showed he’s got enough talent to shine on his own, leading the club when the team’s captain was playing for Canada’s World Junior Championship team.
Second line centre Luke Philp also broke out this season, scoring 31 goals and 46 assists.
The soon-to-be 20-year-old Jagger Dirk anchored the club’s defense with 48 points (10 goals and 38 assists, +2), while Russian rookie Rinat Valiev provided solid minutes (5-23-28, +27).
In their rival Hitmen, the ICE face a team that is flush with scoring up the middle with Brady Brassart (35-50-85), Greg Chase (35-50-85) and possible NHL first round-bound Jake Virtanen (45-26-71), while Kenton Helgesen (10-41-51, +31) anchors their blueline.
The ICE March 15 announced the dates and times for their best of seven Quarter Final series versus the Hitmen.
The best of seven series will start in Calgary on Thursday, March 20, with game two March 22.
The ICE are back home at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook Monday, March 24 at 7 p.m. with game four Tuesday, March 25 at 7 p.m.
Should the series need to go further, game five is Thursday, March 27 at Calgary;
game six is Saturday, March 29 at Cranbrook; and game seven on Monday, March 31 at Calgary.
ICE hand out season awards
The Kootenay ICE last week handed out their 16th annual team awards prior to the start of the game against the Calgary Hitmen. Seven different players were recognized for their achievements.
Rod Hunter Ltd. Players Award – Luke Philp
Apollo Ristorante Most Valuable Player – Sam Reinhart
Ron Collision / Dixon Service Centre Top Defenseman – Rinat Valiev
Alpine Toyota Rookie of the Year – Rinat Valiev
Skyway Distributors Most Improved Player – Luke Philp
BDO Dunwoody Most Underrated Player – Jaedon Descheneau
East Kootenay Community Credit Union Community Relations Award – Mackenzie Skapski
Rocky Mountain Diesel Scholastic Player of the Year – Jordan Steenbergen
Steeples Construction Player of the Month – Jaedon Descheneau
East Kootenay Community Credit Union Community Player of the Month – Tanner Faith
Fan Club’s Player of the Year – Sam Reinhart.