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!


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Game Seven not heaven for Ice;

It was a 3rd period effort they needed in other periods, like the 1st and 2nd, but it wasn't meant to be; at least in Game 6; as the Tigers edged the Ice 2-1 last night to push the series to a seventh and deciding game in the Hat Wednesday night. Highlights are here.

Goals - The Tigers struck first with a quasi-power play goal in the first when Miles Koules buried a snapshot off a behind-the-net-feed just as Descheneau exited the penalty box on a marginal interference call. 1-0 Tigers.... That score held up until just over four minutes left in the 3rd period when a nice rush by McPhee into the Tiger zone along the boards saw his backhand to the net hit the side post and spring out to a charging Jon Martin who shoveled it past Langhamer. 1-1.... A timeout by the Tigers invigorated the club as they pressed hard from then on. In the last minute a hard forecheck by Levi Cable saw him fall heavily into the boards. Martin then pressured but  the Tigers got the puck up the ice for another odd-man rush. Valk finished it off with 35 seconds left with a great shot under the bar for a 2-1 win.

Goalies - Both played extremely well. Langhamer held the Tigers in it in the 3rd and Skapski was spectacular in the 2nd.

Shots - 30-27 for the Tigers. Kootenay finally started firing the puck at Langhamer in the 3rd. Too many passing attempts for me. I'm a keep-it-simple guy when things aren't going your way. Get the pucks to the net and generate chances. Kootenay's only goal was in that vein.

Injuries - D Landon Cross didn't dress for the second straight game. I'd be surprised if he's ready for game seven... D Tyler King played his second straight game and played more minutes but looks like he's playing with a brace as his mobility isn't what it was prior to the knee injury.... F Ast didn't dress for the Tigers.... and looks like the Tigers lost 20-year-old F Jake Doty in the third when he went down hard behind the Ice net. He didn't return.

Game Seven should be a barn-burner, as long as the Ice have anything left in the tank. I thought once in this series that the psychological barrier to bounce back from a six-goal third period to lose the game was hard to overcome. We'll also get to see if if blowing a 3-1 series lead is in the same category.

On the NHL Draft front Sam Reinhart is on top of the International Scouting Services - I.S.S. Top 30 for June's NHL Draft. That's here.  What a difference between Calgary and Medicine Hat on how the Tigers have contained Reinhart. I thought they weren't doing much more than pressuring him more and more to make the pass faster and hoping he'll make a mistake but sometimes I wonder how healthy he is and if he's more banged up than it shows.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Tigers stay alive with 9-2 shellacking of the Ice

Following the 6 goal collapse by the Tigers in Game 4, I thought to myself that it would be a very tough game for the Tigers to forget.

Turns out they have a terrible memories....

Game 5 in Medicine Hat Saturday night was a blow-out of epic proportions as the desperate Tigers out-hit, out-played, and generally out-everthing-ed the dis-interested Ice in one of the worst playoff efforts I've seen.

Highlites, should you choose to watch the carnage, are here.

1. Seriously, for those who watched or listened to the game, the Ice actually came out with more jump - for about the first five minutes. It was all Tigers after that.

2. I'm at a loss to explain the effort last night other than perhaps the Tigers finally put together a full 60 minutes. They've been the better team throughout the series in almost all aspects but somehow still find themselves facing elimination.

3. Save for game one, Kootenay's surrendered 30, 39, 40 and 53 shots, being out-shot and out-chanced in the last four games. It's not very often that happens and a team still wins two of the the four games and in a position to win the series.

4. I've said it before, and will again, depth and injuries are a factor now. Kootenay's iced a full line-up once in the playoffs (Game 1 of the Hitmen series) and last night was no different as D Tyler King came back from a knee injury suffered in the above game but D Landon Cross (likely concussion) was out after being hurt in Game four. A fourth line that would eat up more than a shift a game or when things are out of hand would be a godsend right now.

5. It's almost as though Tigers employ a puck-pressure, heavy forecheck game one shift, and then a full-on, clog up the neutral zone trap, the next. Though last night it didn't really matter as the Ice didn't have the puck much anyway. Turnovers have been an Ice-killer all series and the theme didn't change last night. Matt Alfaro's ill-advised turnover in his own end 6:31 into the 2nd period gave Sanford his 2nd of the game, at the exact same time he scored in the 1st period. He'd score two more in the rout. Alfaro didn't see another shift.

6. Though you can't hang it all on Alfaro by any stretch. Rinat Valiev was minus-5 and 5-man blueline crew chased in their own end all night.

7. For three of the 5 games in this series, the Reinhart-Descheneau duo have been held pointless. I counted one shift for the Ice top unit last night after the ten minute mark of the 3rd period. You wonder how much fatigue is setting in for that line, playing as much as they have over the last two months. Mind you, Cox-Valk-Sanford haven't exactly been receiving average minutes. They play as much as the Reinhart line does, or more. And if the Ice don't have an answer for the quick, puck-moving Tigers, there'll be a game seven in the Hat on Wednesday.

8. G Wyatt Hoflin got the start last night and stayed in through the 9 goals. Though to be honest, it would've been double the nine goals if he hadn't played well early on, although he almost scored on himself trying to move the puck around his net in first. I like his puck-moving skills but he almost notched his first goal Saturday.

9. I wondered why not pull Hoflin to spare him the carnage of the play in front of him but you would think it's because Skapski's getting the start Monday.

10. Though the club still faces elimination, it seems the Tigers are now in the driver's seat for this one. The desperation hockey Ice fans have seen sparingly in this one - a full 60 minutes of it - will be key Monday night at WFP if the club wants to avoid going back to the Hat for game seven. It's been over two years since the Tigers have won a game at the former 'Plex, they'll have to break that streak to push the series to seven.

Game Six goes Monday at 7PM.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ice push Tigers close to extinction

In one of the most exciting comebacks in Ice history, Kootenay pushed the Medicine Hat Tigers to the brink of elimination with a 7-4 win in Game 4 Thursday night at WFP.

Highlites - up right away for fans to view once they get home - are right here.

1. For the second straight night the two clubs locked into a neutral zone-trap, defensive game in which very few chances were generated. Descheneau got the power play going. putting the Ice up 1-0, and his scoring touch going with a three-goal effort for his first three goals of the series. The building gave Valiev credit for the 3rd goal but clearly Reinhart deflected it for his 1st of the series.

2. It was only a matter of time before the big guns got going and tonight, at least in the last 24 minutes of the game, they exploded for 11 points (Philp 1 goal, 3 assists; Reinhart 1 goal, 2 assists; Descheneau 3 goals; Franko 1 goal).

3. Turning point? Luke Philp's push-back goal after the Tigers went up 4-1 and Skapski got the hook. Philp got a rebound in front of Langhamer and buried it to make it 4-2 before the end of the second.

4. The same team that had been frustrated by the lack of offense so far in this series found the spark in the third but I think it had just as much to do with the sudden change in the Tigers game that saw their intensive forecheck - that gave the Ice fits all night - disappear. I'll never understand how teams change their game - likely not on purpose but still, it happens a lot when teams get a healthy lead.

5. The injury - D Landon Cross got side-swiped after a Tiger came out of the penalty box in the second. His helmet came flying off after the collision and he never returned. If it's a concussion, it'll be his second in the last 6 weeks after the devastating fight against the Pats Zgraggen last month.

6. The Hook - Although Skapski got the hook in favour of Wyatt Hoflin - and again, dynamics change enough that Hoflin gets the win - I don't think you can fault Skapski on any of the goals save for maybe the Tigers 4th goal by Curtis Valk. He probably should have had that one but in his defense, everybody was standing around looking at Valk score. That and Ice radio voice Jeff Hollick was right, the Tigers were off-side. Watch the high-lite and you'll see it.

7. The decision - So, game five on Saturday night in Medicine Hat; who do you come back with? Skapski or Hoflin? I think Skapski. If not for his stellar play through the series first three games, this series is tied, at best, at worst the Ice are down 3-1. In this series he's been able to do what he couldn't against the Hitmen and that's steal a game, as he did in Game 3.

8. You'd think at some point the lack of healthy bodies are going to be this team's demise. But somehow they keep finding ways to get past it. With Cross likely out (hopefully not but I'm not confident), the blueline is as thin as it gets. You've got Dirk playing 32+ minutes and 16-yr-old Murray playing almost 30. I'm not sure as to D Tyler King's prognosis as he's been out since Game 1 of the Hitmen series with a knee injury. They list him as day-to-day but I don't think he's even close to returning.

9. Trying to find some combination that would get a spark going McGill benched F Matt Alfaro, 17, likely for the inability to get the puck deep on the Tigers' 3rd goal - yet another neutral zone turnover that the Hat capitalized on. Zak Zborosky took his place alongside Philp and Vetterl and seemed to provide a spark to that unit.

10. Crowd for Game 4 was 2578 which was loud and entertained thoroughly. Game 3 was 2461. Not great but not terrible. Hard to believe though that Game 6 against the Hitmen, on Tim Bozon's return and a series clincher, would draw 1500 more. The hard to believe part is the 1500 fans that either don't, won't or can't make it to this series.

11. Those there did get a chance to see two straight hat-tricks at home, which I don't think has ever happened here, at least in the playoffs. If the Ice go on to beat the Tigers I couldn't say enough about the play of Levi Cable who has six goals in the post-season and four goals and two assists in the series against the Tigers. I think he's been their best player and the most consistent along with that Martin-Cable-McPhee line. (For my money this unit's been the best line for the Ice in this series). This from a player that spent most of the season on the 4th line, as a 19-yr-old, never complained and took advantage of his chances.

12. Coaches downplay it but how important has it been for the Ice to get the top unit of Reinhart-Descheneau-Franko away from Valk-Sanford-Cox? It'll be interesting to see when they play head-to-head Saturday night when the Tigers have last change. Valk and Sanford were both minus-4, though they were both on for two empty-netters.

Lastly, had a chance to take in the game with Al Bieksa - Kevin's dad - who is in town instructing a Workplace Health and Safety course. A Millwright by trade out of the Steel Mills in Hamilton, Al - who has relocated to BC - is a lot of fun and has a ton of stories - both industry and hockey - that'll make you smile.

Game 5 goes Saturday night in Medicine Hat at 7:30PM. With Kelowna already through to the Western Conference Final, meeting a dream match-up with the Portland Winterhawks as the Hawks dumped the Victoria Royals in 5 games tonight, the Ice-Tigers could be the only series left playing. The Oil Kings are up 3-1 on the Wheat Kings and could/should wrap that up Friday night. Hopefully Shaw will televise the game.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Ice take game one from the Tigers

As the Ice move on to face the Medicine Hat Tigers in the second round, a few thoughts following Kootenay's 4-2 win Saturday night to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

1. What a contrast to the first round. A wide-open, edge-of-your-seat, nail-biter - if not always a head-scratcher - that was the Ice-Hitmen series turns to the Game 1 defensive battle  against the Tigers that featured - get this - great goaltending!

2. In a surprise start, G Mackenzie Skapski got the nod to start the second round after a less-than-stellar first round that had backup Wyatt Hoflin close out the series with the Hitmen with the final two wins. The Rangers Draft pick was stellar, if not always busy, but when the Tigers pressed in the second period he made the great saves that seemed to elude him in the Calgary series, stopped 28 of 30 shots, not at fault on either goals.

3. Most everyone knew that the Tigers had the edge in goaltending in Marek Langhamer but he was all that was advertised. If not for him and his stopping 38 of 41 shots this one could've got away from the Tigers early.

4. Okay, hands up all of you that put some cash down on the odds that the Ice would get six power play opportunities and go 0-6 and that an Ice 4-2 win would be bereft of any scoring from Reinhart, Descheneau, Franko and Philp. Thought so.

5. Almost thought that the timing of the big line was a little off more than the Tigers doing any better of a job covering the dynamic duo. Although I'd grant the fact that both had very little time and space Saturday night. Hard to believe that they had so much against Calgary.

6. Easy turning point pick tonight as following a terrible shift by the Cable-Martin-McPhee line in their own zone in which the Tigers had numerous chances and hemmed them in for about a minute, at least, Cable was able to poke a puck free at the blueline and head in on a partial breakaway. Martin had the presence of mind to follow up and not change after likely being gassed, but followed up to receive and bury a Cable feed to tie the game at 2 and effectively demoralize the Tigers.

7. A little gooning it up near the end of the game for the Tigers who were frustrated at the lack of calls going their way from the Zebras. They had a beef. On the empty-net goal by Dirk late in the game just three seconds before that Dirk got away with a clear hold on Curtis Valk that caused the turnover and the empty-netter. An errant high-stick about halfway through the 3rd that wasn't called, just prior to a marginal hooking call on the Tigers, had the Tabbies incensed.

8. That being said, the cheap shot by Tigers D Tyler Lewington  (My apologies, it was 19-year-old D-man Kyle Becker that ran O'Connor) off the face-off when he steamrolled Kyle O'Connor who didn't see him coming. 19-yr-old Tyler Lewington grabbed 16-yr-old Troy Murray and pummeled him. NC - no class. Doty also fed Vetterl pretty good in the scrum. Who had to actually deal with both Doty and F Chad Labelle, who at one point were both feeding Vetterl as Labelle looked for anyone to spar with.

UPDATE - As per the league has suspended Tiger F Jacob Doty, 20, for one game following the melee last night.

9. By not playing their best game, and having their top guys not hit the scoresheet, Kootenay still managed to gut-out a win in the Arena in the Hat and steal home-ice. If Skapski's found his game and the depth is starting to score, it's only a matter of time before the big line scores. Let's see if Kootenay can keep up the good play for game two.

10. Gotta like the applause late in the game for the Tigers tactics by Ice coach Ryan McGill. For those who remember he wasn't exactly a shrinking violet when he played - a start contrast to the way his club plays this season - and I'm sure he would've dealt with the shenanigans in a slightly more aggressive way.  You can't argue with the success the club is having in these playoffs but examples like the one late last night can really get the blood boiling. There isn't a lot of players on the Ice roster that fit the mould of a 'tough guy'. Save for Jon Martin, who can throw with the best of them, but the roster is pretty bare of players like that. I was surprised Jordan Steenburgen didn't get into the fracus in a more meaningful way but really, icing a line-up that again is short of the 18 skaters (they had 17, once again for the 6th straight game following the injury to D Tyler King that the club couldn't ice a full line-up). That dictates that suspensions and injuries are a real concern. Oh sometimes I do yearn for the days of yore.....  Game two goes Sunday night at 6pm in the Hat. Highlites from Game 1 are up and are here.

11. Shout out to the Cranbrook FOE Peewee AA Eagles who won the South Central Alberta Hockey League Peewee Championship a week ago Friday in a 9-6 decision over the Bow Valley Timberwolves to claim the title in three straight games.
The Shawn Byram-Coached Eagles (Regina, Prince Albert, WHL - 1984-88), accomplished what no other Cranbrook-based Peewee team has been able to do and that's win a SCAHL Peewee Banner, having joined that league in 2007-08. The Eagles, who are a Tier 2 club in BC, won the championship coming off a heart-breaking 6-4, empty-net goal loss to Burnaby Winter Club at the BC Hockey Tier 1 Provincial Championships.The club moved up to the Tier 1 Division for provincials where most gave them little chance for success. It's safe to say there hasn't been a local club this successful since the Cranbrook Bantam Eagles, backstopped by Goaltender Cam Ondrik, won the BC AAA Provincial crown in 1995 and before that when the Niedermayer brothers, Scott and Rob, won Peewee and Bantam AAA Provincial Banners in 1988-89.