Saturday, March 28, 2015

Post Season Dance begins

As the Kootenay Ice embark on their 17th consecutive season in the WHL Playoffs, a familiar foe is presented. The Calgary Hitmen, the WHL's version of Yin to Kootenay's Yang, will once again be the club's first round playoff opponent as Spring breaks.

1. Dropping two straight 1-goal games to end the regular season against the Hitmen and thus face their rivals in the first round. I don't think the Ice would have it any other way. The Ice beat the Hitmen in the first round last season before losing out to the Medicine Hat Tigers in the second round.

2. Kootenay started the playoffs on the right foot as the Ice beat the Hitmen at the Saddledome in Calgary 4-3. Luke Philp notched two goals and added an assist and Jaedon Descheneau added a goal and an assist. What are the odds that Sam Reinhart and Tim Bozon would be held off the scoresheet in an Ice win? Highlites are here. Game 2 goes at 4PM in Calgary and is on Shaw.

3. Another key plus in facing the Hitmen in the first round? Bigger crowds, at least somewhat given games 3 and 4 are here next Tuesday and Wednesday and should provide a better draw.

4. Kudos to the WHL/Ice/Hitmen/Shaw who did the Ice and their fans a big favour by NOT televising games 3 and 4 from the Rec Plex Tuesday and Wednesday. Ice fans get the best of both worlds by being able to watch the games on the weekend and head to the rink this week. That's a first for Shaw for covering the WHL Playoffs as they've always followed a particular series to it's end

5. Is Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin in the Hitmen heads for the playoffs? You'll remember that it was then the Ice back-up who backstopped the Ice with the series win last year in 6 games when Mackenzie Skapski was lifted in favour of Hoflin in the goalfest series.

6. Ice attendance woes were front and center this week as the WHL Commissioner Ron Robison talked publicly with the voice of the Ice, Jeff Hollick. The talk started earlier in the week when Robison was quoted in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix stating that "We are monitoring the situation very closely." The full script of that interview is right here.

7. So okay, attendance-wise, we have a problem. What is going to be done to improve it? Is the WHL Commissioner monitoring the situation the only approach? What concrete plans are in place to make this thing work?

8. Kootenay finished second-to-last in WHL attendance with a 2239 per game average this season. Only Swift Current is lower with 2162, which isn't surprising given that Swift Current is the smallest market in the WHL (all of CHL actually with a population of 15,500) while Cranbrook is a close second (2nd smallest, CHL-wise too at just under 20,000; OHL's Owen Sound is third smallest at 21,000.)

9. I haven't been able to find anything that Robison has said about Swift Current's attendance. From what I can gather, there isn't. It' s curious question. Kootenay, which is an identical market, is always fingered for sagging attendance but never Swift Current. I know that the Broncos are community owned and the Ice are privately owned but the economic platforms must be almost identical. Swift Current likely has a somewhat smaller travel budget but the cost structure must be really close. And last season the Broncos reported a healthy profit (but lost money the year before).

10. As if Kootenay didn't need any further hurdles attendance wise heading into the playoffs but the success 20 minutes up the road of the KIJHL's Kimberley Dynamiters will present one. The Dynamiters scored in double overtime Friday night to take game five of their seven-game KIJHL Championship series and a 3-2 lead over the Kamloops Storm. Game six goes Sunday night in Kamloops. Should the Storm push the championship series to a 7th and deciding game, it will take place at the Kimberley Civic Center Tuesday night. Game 3 of the Ice/Hitmen series goes the same night at Western Financial Place. Oh, and if you haven't been following, one of Kamloops' top players has been 15-year-old Max Patterson. Patterson, a Kootenay Ice 4th round pick in last May's WHL Bantam Draft, has notched 3 goals and 4 assists in 6 playoff games with the Storm. The 1999-born, 6'4", 165 lb forward will compete for a roster spot with the Ice next season. Patterson has played in all five games of the KIJHL championship.

OT -  Why is this a problem? It isn't, if you're the Nitros. The club drew a packed crowd of 1358 last night in their 3-2 double OT win, crowds not seen in that rink since the heydays of senior hockey in the region when the Senior Kimberley Dynamiters won the Allan Cup in 1978. If there's a game seven, you can bet that crowd will hit 1400. Competition for the hockey fan dollar.

Double OT - Big shout-out to Everett Silvertips D-man Ben Betker. The Cranbrook product - undrafted in the WHL Bantam Draft - signed an NHL contract with the Edmonton Oilers this past week. The 6'6", 220lb D-man has had a terrific season for the Tips and helped take a 1-0 opening round playoff series lead over the Spokane Chiefs last night. I played men's hockey with his dad Jeff for many years and when Ben was 12-13 he'd come out and play men's hockey with us old-timers. When he played he was a 5'7" forward. Ben left to play major midget in the West Kootenay and when he came back, was a 6'3" D-man and still growing. He played AA Midget in Cranbrook at 15 and left to play Major Midget as a 16-year-old. At 17 the Westside Warriors of the BCHL rostered the big D-man. Betker was listed by the Portland Winterhawks, played one game and was traded to the Silvertips in the deal that involved now Nashville Predators D-man Seth Jones. Betker, in his last year of junior hockey, will likely get some seasoning time with the Oilers new AHL affiliate in Bakersfield, California before a shot with the big club materializes.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Down to the playoff wire....

Solidly entertaining game to watch last night as the Ice lost nail-biter to the Red Deer Rebels, 2-1 in the shootout. With 7 games remaining and a 33-28-1-3 record, good for 70 points, nothing has been decided in terms of playoff seeding, or having clinched a spot for that matter.

1. Kudos to Rebel goaltender Rylan Toth, who stole one last night was easily the game's first star. Haven't seen a goaltender face that many quality chances in one night and still come out on top. 31 shots against and in stopping 30, 18-20 were high quality scoring chances that didn't get by him.

2. Been hearing and seeing a few taunts headed Reinhart's way of late. Not a fan of that. Criticism is fine and when it's constructive and warranted, no problem. Has he been light's out of late? I guess not. No, he's not Connor McDavid but just because he cannot carry this team on his back night-in and night-out, doesn't mean he's any less of a player. It's a grind but he's still averaging 1.45 points a game this season, off from last year's pace of 1.75 from a better team than this year's version. If you're going to criticize, basing the argument in a fact or two may help.

3. With 70 points the Ice hold down the first Wild Card spot, 3 points ahead of Edmonton and 9 points clear of Moose Jaw. Prince Albert is still in the hunt mathematical but in the era of three point games for both teams (a la, last night), it's going to be tough for either to catch a playoff spot. Moose Jaw has seven games left and can get a maximum of 14 more points (75). Kootenay's got the same amount of games left and can hit 84 and theoretically still catch Red Deer or even Medicine Hat, but it's unlikely. So five points or any combination of 3 Ice wins/Warrior losses puts the Ice into the playoffs for the 17th straight season. Kootenay's in Medicine Hat tonight.

4. The bench got awful short last night on the blueline side of things. It'll be interesting how Valiev, King, Lishchynsky and Murray handle the Hitmen or Wheaties in the first round of the playoffs, provided they make it of course.

5. 2200 at the game last night. Just under the average for the season at 2231 a game. FYI, over a thousand (1007) packed the Kimberley Civic Center last night for the Dynamiters 2-1 overtime win over Fernie to knot that series at two games a piece. There's likely be a 1000 stuffed into the Fernie Memorial Arena tonight for game five of that series. If anyone's wondering where the bulk of the Ice fan base has gone in this city, you can start by looking there.

6. The debate is heating up over the CHL Player and minimum wages along with education packages that not always guaranteed. Now NHL Player Agents - powerful ones - are calling out the CHL to start adding some flexibility to the post-secondary packages that are earned by the players. My thoughts have always been that the post-secondary program the CHL offers (one year tuition and books for every year played) is a good one but the restrictions on it are getting some real bad press for the league(s). I'm not a big minimum wage fan (the WHL was up in front of the Washington State Senate lately looking for a minimum wage exemption status) of the argument for the  simple reason that the tuition and books model works for the student/athlete if the professional dream doesn't pan out. But, that player has earned that tuition and books and should have a less restrictive access to it so that they can play pro hockey for a while and then fall back on a university degree if it doesn't pan out. Or even a cash equivalent for those who don't qualify or something along those lines. 18 months use it or lose it as it sits right now doesn't work. 3-4 years would give any 20-year-old ample time to test the pro hockey dream and make an informed decision. At the same time it gives the CHL the "student/athlete" model it's claims - much like the NCAA, only the school part of things is delayed. Some good articles out there by TSN and the Seattle Times.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Playoff Push down the stretch

It's been a month since the last blog as this get's a little hectic to keep up on a consistent basis, but as we head down the stretch into the Spring and the WHL Playoffs.

1.  A 3-2 win over the shorthanded Brandon Wheat Kings last night who were missing D Kyle Clague and F Nolan Patrick but two points nonetheless as the Ice will play the Wheaties to wrap up the four-game road swing through the Prairies tonight.

2. The Ice, with three straight shoot-out games - 2 wins and a loss - improved to 33-27-1-2 on the season with 69 points, seven clear of the Edmonton Oil Kings.

3. Ironically enough the Ice are also four points clear of the Swift Current Broncos but with the new NHL-style playoff format, catching the Broncos doesn't mean anything but home-ice advantage in the later rounds if they were to meet in the playoffs. This season the top three in each of the East and Central Divisions make the playoffs while the two next best teams in terms of total points grab the 1st and 2nd wildcard berths. As it stands right now, if the playoff were to begin today Kootenay would entertain the red-hot Calgary Hitmen in the first round. If the old conference format were in place, Kootenay would be the sixth seed and get the Tigers in the first round.

4. Drawing the Hitmen isn't a bad thing however. I'm sure the memories would be fresh of the 1st round defeat by the Ice last season and fuel the rivalry between the two clubs. The Hitmen are also a good draw in terms of attendance as well.

5. Kootenay could still catch the Red Deer Rebels as they are only four points back with 9 games, including two head-to-head, left in the season. The Rebels have two games in hand and will be difficult to catch unless they stumble.

6. Of course a playoff berth isn't assured as of this point but there is a magic number of four or 8 points. Any combination of four Ice wins or Warrior losses (or points totaling 8) give the Ice their 17th straight year in the WHL playoffs, all while in Cranbrook. It is the longest current playoff streak in the WHL.

7. Offensively, Kootenay's a deep team. It's on the blueline that one wonders if they'll have the horses to get out of the first round of the playoffs. D Tanner Lischynsky has been a welcome presence on the blueline but blueline depth could be a tough wall to break through this playoff season.

8. Speaking of D, Ice first round Bantam pick Griffen Mendel, playing his first year Midget with the Okanagan Hockey Academy club played for Team BC at the Canada Winter Games this past week. Mendel, a 6'2" rearguard eligible to play full-time next season, has also played 2 games for the Penticton Vees of the Junior A BCHL. It isn't out of the ordinary for BCHL teams to affiliate local players but it does raise some eyebrows when the top pick does it. Penticton is known for heavy recruiting of top propects - WHL prospects (Ryan Gropp of Seattle comes to mind) so something to watch for Ice fans. Kootenay has a solid group of D-men coming up but they'll be young next year.

9. Back to the playoff race, those four points behind Red Deer, brings those weekend losses a few weeks back to Moose Jaw and Saskatoon into perspective.

10. Lastly, good to see 20-year-old Mackenzie Skapski, who could have played this year in Junior, make his first NHL start and get his first win this past week with the New York Rangers' win over Buffalo. The one place Kootenay's been consistent this year is in goal with Wyatt Hoflin, however he's played the most by far of any Ice goaltender over the years. Well ahead of the pack in terms of minutes played as Hoflin's over 3350, 200 more than the anyone in the WHL. His save percentage and GAA isn't great but really the question is of fatigue. He may not get a night off until the club's playoff spot in secured and even then perhaps not. Have to feel for back-up Keenlan Williams who hasn't broken the 400 minute mark this season. And he's an 18-year-old that basically hasn't played this season. Adding insult to injury the club brought in Declan Hobbs, 16, a couple of weeks back to play two games.

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.