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Posted: September 25, 2011

Ice celebrate latest banner additions and then snuff Hitmen

Ice players anxiously await heading out onto the ice to start their home opener.

Sharp goaltending, a productive powerplay and a dagger-thrusting 100 second portion of the second period carried the Kootenay Ice to victory in the Western Hockey League defending champion’s home opener Sept. 24 against the Calgary Hitmen.

Rugged forward Brock Montgomery helped lead the Ice to the win with four assists, while netminder Nathan Liewen, fresh from the Buffalo Sabres’ training camp, made 29 saves. The Hitmen outshot the Ice 30-18.

Backup goaltender Mackenzie Skapski leads his squad out for the pre-game ceremonies.

The teams washed the first period with zeros on the board, following an emotional and exciting banner raising ceremony, with the WHL league championship and Eastern Conference championship banners raised to the rafters with a pyrotechnic serenade.

Things went sideways for the hard-charging Hitmen at the 14:17 mark of the second period, when 15-year-old Sam Reinhart converted helpers from Joe Antilla and Montgomery for a powerplay marker.

It's time to head out - time to believe, a mantra that has served the Kootenay Ice well over the years.

The floodgates then opened on Hitmen netminder Brandon Glover. Twenty-seven seconds after the first goal, Montgomery was skating hard again, working with Brendan Hurley to feed Sam Rossignol for his first of the season. And 57 seconds after that, Eric Benoit beat Hitmen defenders to the puck and broke in on net alone. His rising shot beat Glover glove-side.

The Hitmen scratched back into the contest half way through the third period, with Alex Gogolev beating Liewen high stickside.

However, the young Ice squad maintained their composure long enough for veteran Jesse Ismond to charge the Calgary net and jam home a loose puck with 2:23 remaining.

Nathan Liewen looks down the runway at a crowded Rec-Plex, anticipating the start of the club's home opener.

The Hitmen became a bit unraveled at that point and the Ice found themselves with a man advantage with less than a minute remaining.

Rossignol, who scored two goals all of last season, tapped in a rebound to seal the contest.

Montgomery and defenseman Joey Leach, who becomes the Ice’s minute-munching defender with the loss of Brayden McNabb and James Martin to their NHL clubs, added the assists on the final two goals.

A half-filled Rec-Plex crowd loudly cheered the introduction of the Ice’s starting line-up prior to the game, and kept the noise going while RCMP officers Harry Dhami and Trevor March, dressed in ceremonial serge, carried out the WHL and Eastern Conference trophies. And then, with symbolic flashes of fire and with supporting fireworks, the two championship banners were added to the Ice’s impressive collection, amassed in their relatively short history in the East Kootenay’s Key City. There are now nine banners hanging from the rafters, produced since the team re-located to Cranbrook from Edmonton in 1998/99.

First-year defender Jeff Hubic sports memories of the club's season opening game in Red Deer.

The Ice host the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Tuesday, Sept. 27, and remain home for a Sept. 30 (Friday evening) game against the Regina Pats.

Ian Cobb/e-KNOWThe banners are unfurled, joining the seven other championship banners that have been hung since 1998/99.

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