Saturday, January 17, 2015

Deadline came and went with a whimper; Ice stop 4-game losing skid

For a team that may have been worried about losing two of their top players to the World Juniors and if they would stay in the playoff hunt without them, getting them back has been more of a challenge than anyone thought, losing four straight since Reinhart returned with the gold medal and Valiev returned with the silver, and missing three games due to illness.

A relatively easy (on paper) trip through the prairies with Moose Jaw, PA and Saskatoon on the docket, six points were important as the club needs to beat the teams behind them. Losing to Moose Jaw but rebounding to beat PA last night, Saskatoon is on the schedule tonight in the Bridge City. The Blades, one of the WHL's worst teams but on the upswing of late, beat the Ice last Saturday night at the Rec Plex and beat the Tigers last night. At 22-21-1 on the season the Ice are in the final playoff spot but only have a 5 point cushion with a lot of time left.

1. At the deadline the Ice added D Lenny Hackman from Lethbridge, who had left the club and wasn't playing for them anyway. A 2015 12th round Bantam Draft pick went the other way, which, if you look at the draft rounds, is basically nothing as most clubs have had their fill by then and can't pick (50-man protected list) anymore anyway. He's a diminutive 19-yr-old rearguard that will provide the team some depth in light of D Tanner Faith's season-ending shoulder surgery. As mentioned previously, D Tanner Lischynsky was also kept after playing as a AP call-up from Flin Flon of the SJHL.

2. I had been told that the Ice were in on many possibilities at the deadline for a D-man and a back-up goaltender but nothing materialized.

3. With this line-up being healthy they are still a thick line-up that could push a couple rounds into the playoffs. However the prospect of the 8-hole and facing the high-flying Brandon Wheat Kings doesn't bode well. To avoid Brandon or Medicine Hat in the first round they'll have to catch Calgary or Red Deer due to the new playoff format. The top three clubs in each division are seeded 1-2 and 3-6. The two wildcards play the Division winners.

4. Tuesday the Vancouver Giants are in town for the first time in two years. (stupid WHL interlock schedule). Cranbrook native Payton Lee should get the start in goal for the Giants on the little-known 2-for-1 Tuesday nights. Get two tickets for the price of one, among other concession items.

5. Another Cranbrook product, D Ben Betker, 20, had a career night last night. The Edmonton Oiler prospect notched 4 assists for the Everett Silvertips in a 5-3 win over Spokane. Betker's got 12 points in his last 10 games.

6. I've been asked a number of questions about the recent internet rumours about the Ice relocating. One has them going to Abbotsford; another has them going to Boise, Idaho. Some questions have been posted in the comments section of the last post.

7. First, I'm not aware of any application to move the team at the league level, although, like lots on the internet forums, I've heard about the Boise application. If it's real, only the WHL Board of Governors would know if the Chynoweth family made application. There's been nothing public that I'm aware of. There's been no media on the subject at all this season.

8. The club does have a lease - arguably the best lease in the league - that was signed in 2009. It's a 15-year lease but not much else is known about it. I asked the powers that be at the City of Cranbrook some time ago about seeing a copy of the lease but they wouldn't make it available. I am a taxpayer and thought I should be able to see it but didn't have any luck. I could've pushed it, I suppose, through a Freedom of Information request but didn't.

9. On the flip side of the argument, I've also heard that the group that was supposedly close to buying the club last season has re-surfaced again and is close to making something happen. But again, nothing to substantiate; just rumour.

10. At the end of the day, it's about attendance and bums in the seats. Last season the club attracted over 80,000 to their home games. 20th in a 22-team league. That, based on a $20 average ticket price, is about $1.6 million to operate the club. The cost to run this club in the WHL is in that range - $1.5 million 5-6 years ago. It's probably closer to the $1.8-2 million range now. The average attendance for this club through 21 home dates is 2222. 10 short of the 2232 average last season with 15 home dates to go. Right now the club is 21st in the WHL attendance rankings, above only Swift Current.

That's why it's so important to get to the playoffs. The club had six home dates last season and attracted 15,781 to those six games (2630 per game). At an average $22 ticket cost, those playoff dates added $347,000 to the bottom line (minus playoff costs - bus, hotels etc) last season. Add that number to the $1.6 million in ticket sales, plus ad revenue etc, it pushes over the $2 million mark. Of course that's if the team makes the playoffs and has a run.

Swift Current, a publicly owned, small-market team that mirrors Kootenay in terms of attendance, managed to post a $200,000 profit last season. In 2011 the team lost the same amount and missed the playoffs that year. Swift had three home playoff dates of an average over 2800 last spring that undoubtedly contributed to the profit.

This season Chynoweth has already publicly said that the club will be running a six-figure deficit. Many comments on this blog state that if it wasn't for him the attendance would be better. I'm not sure how. It may go up marginally (Prince George's ownership change saw an increase from 1700 average per game last season to 2700 this season) but I doubt the uptick is as big as many speculate here in Cranbrook. I've ranted about the in-game entertainment and that the arena and the club need to get into the 21st century in terms of game entrance, giveaways and video replay clock but no one can argue about the quality of the product on the ice, and really, that's what hockey fans want, no? Wins and success.

Could the club move? There's always that risk here in the small market that is Cranbrook. There's always the issue of 9 years left on the 15 year lease signed but it's not like those haven't been fought out in the courts before.

Could the club be sold, to local owners? Perhaps, but they would face the same small-market challenges. At the end of the day, attendance needs to go the other direction, up. I would much rather see more public discussion on the issue than just those making the rounds at the rink and coffee-shop row, (and internet). The local media need to bring more awareness to the issue. Someone mentioned on the comments the Chilliwack Bruins. That club moved almost overnight to Victoria once the league realized the pro ranks (AHL) were considering moving a team there. The AHL continues to look at the possibility of a Western Division for the affiliates of western-based NHL teams, so the competition is high for markets on this side of the Rockies.

Boise? They support ECHL pro hockey to the tune of 4000 a night. Not bad. They're a big market, over 200,000 but no necessarily a traditional hockey market. They're off the beaten path too. 4-5 hours away from Tri-Cities, 6-7 away from Spokane and Portland. That's a trek for a divisional rival. The Canadian clubs are minimum 11-12 hours by bus away.

Abbotsford? Sure, it could work at a junior hockey market but they may draw in the 3-4000 range in the 7000 seat facility there. That's if the Giants okay another team moving into their 100-km area. I was told they are looking into the availability of the arena because of the Pacific Coliseum's age and location. Ron Toigo, owner of the Giants, stated publicly that the Giants have lost money over the last few years ($400,000 each year).

But at the end of the day folks, it's about supporting the home team. Like the GM or not, the product on the ice is always good. The sizzle will get better, eventually there'll be upgrades in that department but supporting junior hockey in this market is the only way it will.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Season Turnaround complete as deadline nears

With the club's streak to the .500 mark complete and back in the race for a playoff spot following a 3-13 start to the season, the trick as they lost captain Sam Reinhart and top D-man Rinat Valiev to Team Canada and Team Russia, respectively, at the World Junior Championship, would be to at least roll a .500 record in the 8-games without Reinhart (6 w/o Valiev).

Following a home and home sweep of the Calgary Hitmen, the club is riding a 5-game winning streak - without Reinhart, Valiev and also injuries to D-men Dylan Overdyk and Tanner Faith - and finds themselves not only in a playoff spot but at 3 games above .500, knocking on the door of 2nd-3rd in the Central Division.

1. Kootenay sits at 20-17, 40 pts on the season with 3 key road games against Medicine Hat, Red Deer and Edmonton this week.

2. With a record of 17-4 since Nov 1, a playoff spot is a likelihood now rather than a possibility. Barring a complete collapse of the direction they've been heading, the question now arises to January 10 and being buyers in hopes of making a run come spring.

3. The club added some experience to the blueline this week with the addition of affiliate player D Tanner Lishchynski, 19. The Saskatoon product was with the Prince George Cougars for parts of the last two seasons spending 78 games with them before being released to the Yorkton Terriers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. He was with Flin Flon this season and is being given a look-see while the club is down three regular D-man. Lishchynski played top 3 minutes this weekend against Calgary and didn't look out of place.

4. The addition of Lishchynksi - temporary or otherwise - is a good move given the sorely needed experience on the blueline. He's 19, not flashy and could provide serviceable minutes for the time being. The obvious question being is there an upgrade available prior to the deadline that would help out the blueline to push for a run?

5. I see the defensive corps as the position sorely in need of an upgrade if a playoff run is going to come to fruition. The top 6-7 forwards, when healthy and here, are as deep and dynamic as any team in the WHL. In goal, Hoflin has been a horse and continues to be between the pipes. He set a team record for consecutive appearances in Sunday set by Todd Mathews in 2009 and I don't see that streak ending anytime soon. You wouldn't be embarrassed if you forgot the name of the Ice backup (Keenlan Williams). I don't know when Williams may get into another game. Hoflin can relate playing behind Mackenzie Skapski the past two seasons.

6. A blueliner is on the wishlist of GM Jeff Chynoweth come hockey's version of Christmas come January 10 with the trade deadline (provided you're a buyer, I presume). It's not going to be cheap to add a player for any team this season and that's why you see the club hoping that Lishchynski pans out as that depth to the blueline. The d-man didn't cost them anything.

7. Back to the depth at forward, 20-year-old Levi Cable, provided the best example of that this weekend with a four-goal performance Saturday against Calgary, tying a club record (held by 8 players) of four goals in a game. He finished the two game set with 5 goals and 2 assists.

8. Saturday's 6-2 win was the strangest lopsided win I've seen in a while. Out-shot almost 2-1 (53-26), this game was Calgary's to lose. Dominate for long stretches in Kootenay's end only to come up empty and then give up a goal on the rush. Strange stat: all four games Kootenay's played Calgary this season they've chased starter Mack Shields in every game. Could the Hitmen be in the hunt for a goaltender at the deadline?

9. Largest crowd of the season on Saturday at 2967. So how does an average crowd of 2200 this season balloon to almost 3000 on a Saturday over the Christmas break? What's the difference? Lots of people back for the holidays; lots of people off work for the holidays? A 36% increase for one game is too substantial to not have something to look into to try and give the overall average a boost.

10. Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't include the wire stories going on about the investigation into the CHL franchises and whether or not they've violated minimum labour standards in Canada and the U.S. There are three articles that capture the current situation with the New York Times (the Times????), the Toronto Star and finally with Eric Duhatschek of the Globe and Mail.

In the interest of full disclosure, I work as a full-time union rep for the United Steelworkers (USW) in the East and West Kootenays, but having been around and covering the junior game for the last 16+ years, I have a bit of differing opinion on whether the players fall lock, stock and barrel into the employee/minimum wage category. However, in the letter of the employment standards law, the CHL clubs in Canada (and perhaps the U.S., as the State of Washington is looking into the four franchises there) may be vulnerable. I don't know if it's the be all, end all answer but the Student Athlete claim by the CHL could be a valid one but they will have to guarantee the scholarships earned. Currently the CHL scholarship program - a very good program - has flaws. There are time limits to it as players who play minor pro hockey longer than 18 months forfeit their earned scholarship. And if you sign a pro contract at the NHL/AHL level, it's also gone. In my opinion, if those stipulations of the program are changed/eliminated. The value of those scholarships would likely far outweigh any minimum wage/vacation pay calculation.

The issue Chynoweth speaks about in the Globe and Mail article about the  WHL (and CHL-wide) are valid. There is a wide gap between the Edmonton, Calgary, Portland and Vancouver franchises to the middle of the pack franchises (Red Deer, Kelowna, Kamloops, Saskatoon, Regina, Victoria) and the small-market locales in Cranbrook, Swift Current, P.A. and Moose Jaw. Revenue sharing, and idea broached many times by Ed Chynoweth, is in the best interest of the league as a whole. Revenue sharing to guarantee those scholarships as a tangible alternative to the minimum wage issues is a must if the league is going to face these very real issues.

Do pay particular attention to paragraph 49 in the Duhatschek's story in the Globe and Mail. Chynoweth talks about 17-19 former players in the scholarship program - a great number - but the cost of which puts the club in a deficit position, "a six-figure deficit this year, a significant six-figure deficit." That is obviously very troubling if the club is losing north of $100,000 this season. Eventually, something has go to give.

Finally, the face of the WHL portion of the lawsuit - Lukas Walter - has a connection to the Ice as his younger brother is a prospect of the club. Jakub Walter - both nephews of former NHL'er Ryan Walter - is a goaltender with the Valley West Hawks of the BCMML. He was drafted by the Ice in the second round, 33rd overall in last May's Bantam Draft. This issue is causing a major storm of controversy in the hockey world and you have to respect the stand the older brother is taking, agree or not.

And lastly, former Ice forward Matt Fraser was claimed by the Edmonton Oilers off of waivers from the Boston Bruins this week. Talk about going from one end of the spectrum to the other. At least Ice fans will be able to watch him play more, at least until spring when the playoffs start...... Sorry Oiler fans, couldn't resist.

Monday, December 15, 2014

.500 and feeling fine.....

Following a 4-point weekend minus the services of Reinhart the Kootenay Ice won both home outings - 3-2 in OT over Prince Albert and 6-3 over the Edmonton Oil Kings - to move to the .500 mark since September 20 - Game 2 of the season - at a record of 17-17 on the season for 34 points. The usual suspects are powering this team right now - Reinhart, Descheneau, Philp, Bozon, Valiev, but I think the return of Jon Martin helps immensely. There's not a lot of players of his ilk - big, tough, greasy - in the Ice lineup and when he's on, as he's been, he gives them another dimension.

1. In what can only be described as a monumental turnaround, once the team got Reinhart back from the Buffalo Sabres and healed up from a myriad of injuries, you could see a glimpse of what this team is capable of this season.

2. A 3-13 start, since then the club has gone 14-4 - three of the wins without Reinhart in the line-up.

3. Those questions that arose over whether the team is a buyer or a seller at the trade deadline of January 10 have disappeared. The Ice now occupy the last wildcard playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. After that, anything is possible.

4. Remember, this year the top three teams in each division (East and Central) make the playoffs as seeded teams (Division Winners 1-2) while the next two teams in the standings get the two wildcard berths.

5. Back to the discussion of buyers and sellers. The selling part (Reinhart) would have to be exponentially beneficial to the club down the road to risk the loss of the all-important home playoff dates that add to the bottom line. That wasn't evident when the one of the other big chips available - Winnipeg Jets 1st Round pick Josh Morrissey, along with 19-yr-old F Gage Quinney was dealt to the Kelowna Rockets in exchange for F Austin Glover, 18, and D Jesse Lees, 19, along with a 2nd rounder in 2016 and a 3rd round pick in 2017. Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton said he would never sell the farm for a rental (Morrissey, as he'll turn pro next season). He wasn't happy with acquiring 20-year-old import F Marek Tvrdon last year - in the meantime he had to deal 20-year-old Zack Franko to the Ice to get under the 3 - 20's limit - and felt it wrecked the chemistry of his team. I don't believe he did that in this deal.

6. Nary a first round pick to be had in the above deal. If the thought was going to cross anyone's mind for Sam Reinhart it would have to start with a 1st round pick this year and next along with a roster player and a prospect. If the market can't bear that price then it's not worth it.

7. That being said, given the recent fortunes of the Ice, I can't see them being sellers. They need to get through this stretch without Reinhart and Valiev which will be 8 games as I suspect Reinhart will be back by the January 9 game against Red Deer given the World Junior tournament being in Toronto and Montreal. Valiev may be less as the Russian camp is actually in Russia. So Valiev has to travel home to see if he makes the team (he likely will) and then travel back. The club's won the last two without Reinhart and should go 3-3 as a conservative estimate through the next six without their best d-man and best forward. That'll mean at the deadline they'll be in the hunt or in a playoff spot and likely having nothing for sale. Injuries to Faith and Overdyk, both D-men, will be crucial to overcome while Valiev is away.

8. As for buyers, that's a different story. They don't have a lot of chips left in the cupboard (this year's first round pick is with Kamloops in the Tim Bozon deal) to look for another d-man prior to the deadline so it could be a quiet one for them and the club goes with what they have.

9. Got a chance to see Kelowna and Saskatoon in Kelowna last week. The Rockets beat the Blades 5-1 but more importantly, I got to see what kinds of in-house things the club does to entertain fans other than what's on the ice.

a) Prior to the game we went up to the restaurant in Prospera Place and were treated to a wicked Buffet. Not cheap but great food nonetheless.
b) As soon as the teams took the pre-game skate and windows slide up like a garage door and we were exposed to the sounds of the game
c) The Rockets enter the ice at the beginning of the game through an inflatable Ogopo that drops down from the rafters, inflates in a minute. They drop the lights, add a strobe light and smoke machine and viola, an entrance.
d) There's the mini-blimp that drops coupons for the kids and parents during stoppages. The only I didn't see was a T-shirt cannon
e) The Jumbotron wasn't exactly Jumbo. There were four screens on top of the four-sided scoreclock not unlike the one we have at WFP, except these ones were great and easily had the replays and kiss cams and the like. It's a MUST HAVE these days. The cameras were of the network variety also and had the ice-level shots, along with over-net if need be. That woulda been nice for Friday when the Ice seemed to take a 3-2 lead at the other end of the rink over the Raiders on a second period power play. The goal was reviewed and ruled no goal as it didn't cross the line. Wouldn't it be nice for those in attendance to see that like the rest of the WHL world? (except for Medicine Hat, theirs is coming next year).
f) cost was $24 for a walk-up. Could have had club seats for another $10 bucks or so but I can buy my own beer, I don't need service.

10. Not a lot of attendance this weekend as less than 2000 on Friday night (many, many X-mas parties going on around town) and 2000 right on the money Saturday were there for the 6-3 win over Edmonton. I missed the Saturday game as I was in Kimberley watching the Dynamiters play Golden (my 16-year-old was playing his first Junior B game). Almost 400 there for that game, mostly locals that I could figure but lots of friends and family up there with the 14-15 locals (Cranbrook/Kimberley minor hockey products - 5 that are currently injured) playing for that club. I think you don't have go much farther than that for the steep decline in Ice attendance lately.

11. Should 6' 173lb D-man Cale Fleury, younger brother of Red Deer D-man Haydn Fleury, a 1st round pic of the Carolina Hurricanes, be mentioned in the same breath as the top 1998-born players in the WHL this season? I think so. The kid has quietly manned some big minutes in light of the Ice blueline injuries this season. Fleury, Albee, Overdyk set the club up for the next three seasons on the blueline but I think the 16-year-old has established himself nicely.

Former Ice forward Colin Shirley and the Kamloops Blazers make their only appearance in Cranbrook Tuesday night in the last game before the Christmas break. Gametime is 7PM.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

No Black Friday Sales in Kootenay...

If there was ever any argument as to Sam Reinhart's impact on the Kootenay Ice and the WHL upon his return, there's none that he's the best player in the league, hands down.

Since the return and reunion of Reinhart with the likes of Tim Bozon, Jaeden Descheneau and Luke Philp, the club has rattled off 7 wins in 8 games (8 of 9 in the current streak), went from 4-13 on the season to start to 11-14 and now find themselves only two points shy of a playoff spot.

With the good ship Ice firmly turned around and headed in the right direction, the talk of Kootenay being sellers with the return of Sam Reinhart and Tim Bozon has all but disappeared. In fact now the chatter is whether or not the club will be buyers at the January 10 deadline or prior to, now that the club has won 8 of it's last 9 games.

Who'da thunk it.....

So, as we head into December....

1. Are the Ice sellers or buyers? December should tell the tale. The club only has Reinhart for another 7 games. I think they need 5 wins to really put themselves in a good position to challenge for a playoff spot. If that's in sight, they will be no sales in Iceland this season. Playoff dates are more important and the revenue they bring. Not to mention a playoff run.

2. The only way the Ice become sellers is if there's a Cody Eakin or Brayden Schenn-type deal out there. I don't think there is. Given the results, it's a huge risk. It paid off for the Ice when they were buyers but not for the Blades when they were buyers, and the Wheat Kings are laughing all the way to the top of the WHL.

3. Speaking of results, for fun, looked at the Eakin deal today, below, with 20/20 hindsight vision.

4. Although Reinhart's return is the key, getting this team healthy cannot be understated during the recent success. Jon Martin, Levi Cable and Kyle O'Connor all returned recently, giving the team some much needed depth.

5. Martin's 4 point period in the 3rd on Sunday night in the come from behind win over the Warriors was nice to see. Couldn't happen to a more popular guy, fan-wise. Would nice to see him stay healthy and finally break out into the power forward he could be.

6. If the Ice are buyers (tough to be without a first round pick in 2015, although Bozon has been a great return on that deal), look no further than the blueline where the club needs an upgrade. Fleury, 16, will be a good one and Troy Murray, 17, though having a tough start to the season, should come around. Overdyk will also be a good one but the club needs another 19-yr-old, top 4 d-man if they're going to compete.

7. Been a long time since I've seen a comeback like Sunday's 6 goal outburst in the third to get the two points. Fun to watch.

8. Long road trip into the U.S. Division starting Friday in Portland.

9. Since the return the Ice are 8 for 27 on the power play. A 29% clip.

In trying to do my best Alan Caldwell of Small Thoughts fame imitation (link over on the right) he recently had a look at the Brayden Schenn deal that brought the slick forward to the Saskatoon Blades in 2011 from the Brandon Wheat Kings for a haul equal to the GDP of some small countries in hockey terms. It's a deal that's still paying dividends today as the Wheaties are burning up the East.

The Cody Eakin deal that saw Eakin head to the Ice in January of 2011 for what amounted to be 8 players (five players and three draft picks) could also be looked at in the same vein. Especially since the Swift Current Broncos are among the top clubs in the East this season.

Was it the Eakin deal that pushed them over the top like the Wheaties enjoy today?

Let's look;

16-yr-old and current Bronco Captain Colby Cave (now 20), a 1st round pick of the Ice in 2009, was easily the best piece of the deal for the Broncos. At 153 points in 242 games, Cave has been a steady return on the Eakin deal for Swift.

18-yr-old F Christian Magnus - 30 pts in 86 games in his second stint with the Broncos (originally the centerpiece of the deal that saw D John Negrin head to the Broncos in 2008-09). Magnus didn't stick with the club as a 20-year-old and played his overage season in the SJHL.

17-yr-old F Ryan Bloom - 1 point in 24 games with the Broncos after the deal. He never played in the WHL after that finishing off his junior career in the AJHL.

17-yr-old F Jarett Zentner - Never played a game for the Broncos

17-yr-old G Steven Myland - Played six games with the Broncos over two seasons with a 1-3-1 record. Finished off his junior career in the BCHL.

2011 1st round pick (via Vancouver Giants in the David Musil Lottery Supplement) - D Zach Gonek. Gonek was dealt to the PG Cougars in 2013 for D-man Jordan Harris, taken by the Cougars 3 picks earlier in the 2011 Draft. Harris, 18, is still with the Broncos and has played 76 games over the last two seasons (2g, 12 a - 14 pts). He's a number 5-6 D-man on the Broncos depth chart currently.

2011 2nd round pick - F Cavin Leth (no, not from Lethbridge, Taber, actually) was taken 39th overall by the Broncos. Leth, 18, has played 75 games over the last two seasons, notching 4 goals and 4 assists. He's a 3rd-4th line forward for the Broncos.

2012 3rd round pick - F Wyatt Sloboshan. Sloboshan never played a game for the Broncos. He was dealt along with picks and F Connor Sanvido last season to the Saskatoon Blades for overage F Nathan Burns. In 28 games with the Broncos acquired just prior to the trade deadline last season, Burns notched 11 goals and 23 assists. Sloboshan signed with the Blades in the off-season and has notched 3 goals and 5 assists in 12 games this season.

So there you have it. Out of the five roster players Colby Cave had the biggest impact but the 8-for-1 deal clearly landed in Kootenay's favour, as Eakin helped the Ice win the 2011 WHL Championship.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Ice Ship turning around

Tough to blog much this weekend as I was with the AA Midgets in Alberta all weekend.... But from the highlites and the internet feed, here goes:

1. We talked about how important Sam Reinhart's return would be, and it was instant. 32 seconds into the first period Friday against the Oil Kings and 11 seconds into the 2nd. I heard rumblings when he didn't initially return to the Ice but they were unfounded, obviously, when he made his season debut Friday night.

2. Tim Bozon's return also cannot be understated. The two-some of Reinhart and Bozon had added much-needed depth to the line-up. Valiev looks better; King returned from his injury. When Martin, Faith and O'Connell return perhaps we'll have a real idea of what this team is capable of. All of sudden the depth shows up with Vetterl and Cable having much better games over the last three. Need that every night from the OA's.

3. Last weekend's win over Lethbridge probably cannot be overstated. A fragile team in the Ice who jump out to a commanding 4-0 lead. Only to blow it and need a last minute goal and OT winner to get the two points. Not exactly the blueprint for a win but that club - minus Bozon, Reinhart and the rest of the injured players - needed to know they can win without them.

4. At 6-13 on the season there's a glimmer of hope this team can be turned around. At four points back out of a Wildcard playoff spot (we'll chat about the new WHL Playoff format later), the Ice need these November points in the worst way if they're going to be in contention. They play 13 games before losing Reinhart and possibly Valiev to the World Juniors. Descheneau, who'll play in the Subway series, may also have an outside shot at gaining a camp invite. That's 26 points total points that the team will need somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 of them to be in a playoff spot before losing some key cogs.

5. Then the fun begins. Holding on to that playoff spot without Sam. Keeping healthy will be key and whether or not Bozon can carry the team through without Sam.Christmas week and where the club is in the standings will determine whether or not Sam finishes his career with the Ice or is traded away.

6. Again, going on the highlites but the return of D Tyler King has to help that young D. But the likes of Fleury, Albee and Overdyk are showing a real future.

7. I get why D Jordan Steenbergen would "mutually agree" to play Junior A and be sent down and I get the cost issue of carrying more than 22 players in a small market, but if the club loses Valiev for WJC, he gives you some versatility. Maybe he'll be called up if need be but usually that doesn't happen for an 18-yr-old who is released.

8. Last night's release of 1st round bantam pick Jared Legien back to Moose Jaw AAA Midget spurred me to try and remember the last first round pick that didn't stick with the team. F Colby Cave - he turned out pretty good after the deal that sent him to Swift Current for Cody Eakin (plus a whole lot more) - was the last one. G Nathan Lieuwen also didn't last his 16-year-old season but that could've been more from the roll-over accident and concussion issue that year. Those are the only two 1st round Bantam picks that didn't stick with the team as 16-year-olds. Hopefully not a sign of times for Legien.

9. Like the promotions that the Ice are doing now - 2-for-1 Tuesdays (regularly, for Tuesday games); Sunday Family pricing in which a family of four get four tickets, four popcorn or four hot dogs or four slices of pizza for only $52. Put bums in the seats whatever creative way you can. I'm a season ticket holder and don't care if the casual fan gets a deal of some sort. More casual fans become season ticket holders and regulars, that's a good thing. Empty seats do not generate any revenue. 2240 for Saturday night and 2300 for Sam's return Friday night. Not great but better than south of 2000. Need 2500 at least every night.

10. Lastly, need to vamp up the highlite package on the website. Need it ASAP following a game for those who are out of town or want to watch the goals over again. And we need sound. Some flair would be nice too. That's not too much to ask, is it? Without replay in the rink, I like being able to see the goals (and fights and big plays) in the replay package.

Ice continue the home stand next Friday against the Calgary Hitmen.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Reinhart's Back - Will it make the difference?

The 2014-15 season is almost at the quarter pole for the Kootenay Ice and the club is off to its worst start in Kootenay Ice franchise history. At 3-12 the record isn't the most futile in franchise history, that stat goes to the '97-98 Edmonton Ice, one season prior to their move to Cranbrook, when the club went 1-20-2 to start the season and didn't get their first win until November 22. So things aren't that bad but they are the worst in Kootenay Ice history.....

And... they are looking up.

1. The Buffalo Sabres sent back F Sam Reinhart, 2nd overall pick in the NHL Draft in June, to the Kootenay Ice following a 9-game stint in the NHL with the even more hapless Sabres. Reinhart recorded 1 assist in 9 games and was a minus-1 averaging 10:21 of ice-time per game.

2. People can debate all they want about whether or not it's best thing for Reinhart to come back to junior and light it up, captain Team Canada at the World Juniors (just a hunch) and get stronger but at the end of the day, if a player isn't ready for the NHL, he isn't ready. There's absolutely no value in having him sit in the press box or play on the 4th line. Get better, Get Stronger and he should play there next year as a 20-year-old.

3. Now, what does this do for the Ice and their line-up? There's still some major issues here in iceland with that group and I wonder whether or not the return of their leader will fix it. Injuries have been a major concern. D Tyler King is out for 2 weeks; D Rinat Valiev hasn't been himself since returning from Toronto Maple Leafs camp with an injury. F Jon Martin needs to stay healthy as the lack of a big body up front in the top six is killing this club right now. F Tim Bozon's return will help, provided he stays healthy.

4. The blueline top two of Faith and Murray hasn't clicked much this season. Turnovers are killing this team but saddling the top two minutes on the blueline with Murray at this point in his development is too much. He's a 3-4 guy right now, at best. This club needs King and Valiev to be healthy. It's not a bad top four but there's not a lot of room for an injury. Fleury, Albee and Overdyk cant be asked for more than a #5-6 role.

5. Looks like MacKenzie Skapski may have found a home in Hartford with the Rangers' AHL affiliate and notched his first shutout last week. He's not coming back and besides, goaltending isn't a problem around these parts right now.

6. The forward lines get deeper with Reinhart, obviously:

Descheneau - Reinhart - Bozon
Vetterl - Philp - Cable
Martin - Alfaro - Chynoweth
Beattie - O'Connel - Wellsby
Legien - Loschiavo

Gotta get more from the 20's. Cable and Vetterl haven't played with a lot of speed of late.

7. It was 2-for-1 night Tuesday against P.A., a 5-0 loss and hopefully the low-point of the season, but I wonder if anyone really knew about it. 1930 in attendance for 2-for-1 night? Really? I'm a season ticket holder and knew about it but I was obviously in the minority around these parts.

8. It's really a sign of the times for this franchise right now though. Tuesday there were whole sections without a soul in them. Empty spaces on the board advertising; empty skyboxes; empty seats. At some point this situation has to be labeled as critical.

9. Yes, the talk is about the playoff streak coming to an end and looking to a high lottery draft pick in the 2015 Bantam Draft. Of course this might be a bad time to remind those interested in such things that the club's 1st round pick in 2015 now belongs to Kamloops, as well as a 5th round pick from 2015, dealt in the Tim Bozon deal. Now, the return of Bozon as a 20-year-old might make that deal more palatable, as long as a playoff appearance in 2015 is also in the cards. Right now that pick is a lottery pick and could in fact be the number one pick over all. The last time this franchise had that high of a pick it was F Jarret Stoll taken 1st overall in 1997. Year before that, D Steve McCarthy. Not to burst the bubble....

10. Lastly, as a fan, I guess, things are starting to look tired around the rink. There's diehards like myself who come regardless but what is the prospects of putting a video scoreclock in? We're the only WHL arena without one. Not even any lights or pyrotechnics as the team enters. There's a swack of stuff things could be done. It doesn't have to be an example like this in Halifax (awesome, btw) but something to build some energy and excitement. Reinhart coming back will help but these days it's as much about the sizzle as it's about the steak. I don't know what'll take and I know that the big political talk as the municipal election nears is about being fiscally responsible but we should be able to keep up with the Swift Current; Moose Jaw and Prince Albert's of the WHL. They all have video scoreclocks. I had some friends with me a couple of games ago looking for Ice merchandise and couldn't get any as the arena has none to be found and the store that does have it was closed at that point.

OT - Not sure what happened as the P.A. Raider team that played here Tuesday looked pretty good in a 5-0 drubbing of the Ice but this morning out of Prince Albert news that former Ice head coach Cory Clouston had been fired.

Double OT - On the topic of former Ice coaches, WHL writer for Yahoo! Kelly Friesen took to Twitter on the subject of former Ice coach Kris Knoblauch. Knoblauch is enjoying being behind the bench with future Buffalo Sabre, uh, 1st overall NHL pick in June of 2015, Connor McDavid. He's having a season for the ages in Erie with the OHL's Otters. At 38 points in 13 games (13 goals and 25 assists) he's almost at 3 pts/game. The Otters are 12-0-0-1 on the season with only a shootout loss so far.

Triple OT - Back to the return of Reinhart, if this ship isn't turned around by December (when Sam heads to Team Canada's camp) he could certainly be traded. What, given the price of high-end talent these days, would have to be brought back in return? Two 1st round picks? Two roster players? A high-end prospect? All of the above? (more like the latter). Chew on this: Sam will be back and undoubtedly he'll make an immediate impact but if the club is still wallowing in last place and out of the playoffs by the January 10 trade deadline, Reinhart would most assuredly be traded. Luckily, the WJC is in Canada this year and following the tournament Sam would be back sooner rather than later if the tourney was held in Europe. The last home game before the deadline after the WJC is Friday, January 9 against the Rebels. That could be the last date to see Reinhart in an Ice uniform. Otherwise Tuesday December 9 against Medicine Hat could be the last time for Reinhart in an Ice uniform if he's traded while away at the WJC. Something to think about.

Halloween game tonight against the Red Deer Rebels. Note the late 8PM gametime start.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ice Post-Mortem; look to next season

After a few days to reflect and to enjoy the outdoors - it is High School Baseball season, don't you know, and it didn't snow during L.V. Rogers annual spring tournament in Nelson over the weekend, and Mt. Baker won it, but I digress - lets have a look at the end of 2013-2014 for the Ice.

Video is here. 

1. Game 7 had some real intensity and high tempo play that you would expect from a Game 7, tied going into the third period and actually out-shooting the Tigers for the first time since Game 1, the early go-ahead goal in the third off an ill-advise pinch sprung Trevor Cox. A perfect shot by Cox beat Skapski as he picked the corner. The Ice pushed but couldn't convert as Cox notched another one ten minutes later.

2. In an opposite display to the first round, the difference in this series was the inability of Reinhart-Descheneau-Franko (and Philp) to continue the scoring magic displayed against the Calgary Hitmen. That and the club couldn't shut down Valk-Sanford-Cox when it counted.

3. The Tigers won the series and got the right to play the well-rested, 8-1 Oil Kings and promptly lost game 1 8-3. It was 7-0 after two periods of play. Barring something crazy happening, the Oil Kings will see the survivor of the Rockets-Winterhawks war in the Western Conference.

4. So let's look ahead to next year shall we? First, the graduation of F Zach McPhee, F Zach Franko and D Jagger Dirk will leave the Ice some big holes to fill but not catastrophic by any means. The bigger question is what do you do with the possibly 6 overage candidates to fill the 3 spots next year.

5.G Mackenzie Skapski, D Landon Cross, D Landon Peel, F Levi Cable, F Austin Vetterl  and F Tim Bozon. It may be an easier decision than first thought. If Skapski signs with the Rangers he won't return and will likely turn pro, although being drafted last year, the Rangers have two years to sign him and could sign him or not and wait until next year and leave him play junior for his 20-year-old season. The bigger question if Skapski returns is will G Wyatt Hoflin, who will be 19, settle for second fiddle again next season? I doubt it. Meaning one should be traded with one of G Declan Hobbs, 16, G Jeffrey Veitch, 17 and Jayden Sittler, 18 hoping to fill the void.

6. The Blueline - I think that'll be the key position next year for the club. If D Tanner Faith returns to play big minutes despite the season-ending shoulder injury; If his former Bantam D-partner Tyler King, 19, can play big minutes; If D Rinat Valiev returns for a second season, which he should but with import players anything is possible; If D Troy Murray can step up and play even more as a 17-year-old and if players like D Jordan Steenburgen can transition back to his natural position on the blueline after a season as a 4th line injury fill-in; That gives the Ice some options for the question marks of D Landon Cross and D Landon Peel returning as overage players. One or both could return and shore up a deep blueline if they play.

7. The last statement hinges on a couple things; if the rehab of F Tim Bozon progresses enough for him to return to the game and if he wants to return to junior hockey in Canada. The former I hope occurs for the dynamic player to return to the game. It would be a shame for him to leave it after the scary bout with Meningitis. The latter, I think, is a valid question. The desire to play the game aside, the insurance issue - an estimated outstanding balance of $100,000 left over from his month-long treatment of the life-threatening virus - presents a problem for the import players coming over to North America and the teams obtaining the proper medical insurance. The great and truly inspiring response of the fans and teams of the WHL notwithstanding - raising thousands of dollars to help with the cost - doesn't hide the fact that junior hockey has a serious issue with making sure there's coverage for import players in this country (and the U.S.). If you're a parent and player - and an agent - what is the first question asked of junior hockey teams wanting you to join them?

8. That being said - and really, there's a whole other column to write on the above subject - if Bozon recovers enough to play I'm sure that the Montreal Canadiens (64th overall; 2012 NHL Draft) would like him to play another season in junior given the circumstances. However, he is signed (May 30, 2013) and could be placed with the Habs AHL or ECHL affiliate. My feeling is that, again, if he recovers enough to play again, he doesn't return to play junior.

9. What's left? Skapki, Cross, Peel, Cable, Vetterl. So we're no further along. That's because the club will wait with baited breath of the status of F Sam Reinhart. A likely top-3 pick for the NHL Draft in June, the argument of whether or not he's ready will be front and center most of the summer/fall. In today's NHL world of salary cap impact first round picks that might not have made the big club right out of the draft are now making it for lots of reasons but one that stands out is that they're usually cheaper 4th-line guys than the veterans that might or do command more. That being said, the Tampa Bay Lightning sent dynamic forward Jonathon Drouin back to Halifax of the QMJHL to light it up and play a big role with the World Junior team over Christmas. In fact, last year's draft - deeper by the opinion of NHL scouts than this year - saw only 6 selections Mackinnon (Colorado), Barkov (Florida), Jones (Nashville), Lindholm (Carolina), Monahan (Calgary) and Zadorov (Buffalo) stick with their NHL teams as rookies. So, the will-he or won't-he discussion will go on until the fall for sure.

10. If Reinhart returns the up front depth deepens considerably. Reinhart, Descheneau, Philp, along with Jon Martin with the likes of Levi Cable and Austin Vetterl gives the club a deep top two lines. Keeping Cable and Vetterl means room for one of only Skapski, Cross or Peel. If Reinhart doesn't come back I think keeping Vetterl and Cable is a sure thing. Trouble is the club may not know what Reinhart's status is until after the 20-year-old deadline October 10.

Reinhart's also been nominated as the Eastern Conference MVP and will go head-to-head with Spokane's Mitch Holmberg, 20, for WHL MVP. Holmberg finished the season as the WHL's top scorer with 62 goals and 118 points in 72 games. Reinhart played 12 fewer games and finished with 105 points. The two players are also up for WHL Most Sportsmanlike Player of the year.

Overtime - Many thought the club was built for next year but really, with the acquisition of Tim Bozon and Landon Cross the team was betting high on this year. The injuries/illness to both as the season ended threw a wrench into those plans and present a ton of question marks for next season that only time will vet out.

If memory serves, Ice head coach Ryan McGill signed a two-year deal with a club option for a 3rd. Given the success he's had with the young club, along with coach-of-the-year honors last season, I'm sure he'll be back next season.

F Zak Zborosky, F Matt Alfaro and F Kyle O'Connor will get lots of opportunity to fill that 3rd unit next season with F Jared Legien and F Vince Loschiavo looking for spots as 16-year-old forwards along with F Drew Warkentine, F Austin Wellsby and D Andy Stevens, 16 and D Dylan Overdyk, 17. Where F Ryan Chynoweth - missed the last month and a half of the season and playoffs with a concussion (although unreported, my opinion only) - fits in next year as a 19-year-old remains to be seen.

Lastly, there continues to be a ton of local speculation (READ: rumour mill, coffee shop row talk; scuttlebutt around the rink) that a sale to local interests by the Chynoweths is imminent. It's just rumours and innuendo for now so the speculation will remain just that.

Over at Gregg Drinnan's WHL Blog (link on the right) he speculates by process of elimination which franchise would be logical to relocate (given no WHL expansion) to the recently vacated Abbotsford Sports and Entertainment Centre which will lose the Calgary Flames AHL affiliate Abbotsford Heat once the season ends. That speculation naturally landed with only one team and that's the Ice so take it for what you will.

Attendance in Cranbrook dropped to 2232 averaged through the season - a drop of 179/game from last season's 2411 and a drop of 573/game from the 2805 the club drew in 2011-12. That number increased to 2629 through six playoff home dates this season but the 2232 is the lowest in the 16-year history of the Ice being in Cranbrook, save for the first two seasons in the Memorial Arena (1700 a year approximately for those two seasons). It has to be a major concern for the Chynoweths if they plan to keep the club. If it's sold to local interests, the concern still has to be there. I would argue a break even point based on the minimum cost structure sits around the 2500 mark. With six home playoff dates the club will likely be on the positive side of the ledger regardless but I'm sure losing money in the regular season will have cause for concern for any owner. The team has been successful in the playoffs and that certainly makes the bottom line shine brighter. Over the 16 seasons in Cranbrook the club has played 81 home playoff dates, averaging just over 5 per season. Base that on an average ticket cost, a conservative estimate gives you about $200,000 average in playoff income on top of the regular season budget. But that's because the on-ice product has been stellar over the 16 seasons in Cranbrook.

If the club hits a spell like Lethbridge, Moose Jaw or Saskatoon - who haven't had a lot of success over that same 16 year span - you can see the cause for concern for any investor locally. If you lose that on-ice success the picture changes dramatically for the small-market Ice and their chance of success in Cranbrook going forward.

Anyway, lots to digest for the off-season that's never dull during the season or the summer in the Kootenays. Unless there's some dramatic announcement forthcoming (I'm not convinced there will be as secrets in this town, like most, aren't easily kept) about the sale of the club, this post will be it until the WHL and NHL Drafts.

Enjoy the summer!