Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Young and restless....

For the News-Advertiser..

Young and restless in Kootenay

by Jeff Bromley

They’re young, brash and rebuilding and, quite frankly, their timing is the pits. Then again, is it ever a good time to rebuild?

There's always talk about every team going through it and no team being immune and while some teams seem to perpetuate it, the black cloud of the bottom of the junior hockey cycle as it’s often referred to has for the most part avoided the Kootenay Ice. Until, perhaps, this season.

After a decade of success measured by nine winning seasons, a regular season banner, two championships, a Memorial Cup and playoff appearance running the decade-long table of the entire time the club’s been in Cranbrook, will this be the season the playoff streak stops? The signs, they’re all there. “As an organization we’re all on the same page,” offered the club’s second-year bench boss Mark Holick. “We’ve got younger guys and that’s our job. To get them to play the way we’d like them to play and that’s with effort, sacrifice and conditioning.”

Not mixing his words the message is simple: depth is an issue, unless you wear big pads and like to get in the way of 120Km/hr pucks. Those guys they have in spades. The holes, for lack of a better term, are everywhere else. The club’s blueline boasts four WHL-experienced skaters, two overagers, one 19-year-old and a 17-year-old that’s coming off a fine rookie season in Brayden McNabb. Imagine if you will the effect on the club if the Calgary Flames don’t send D John Negrin back from the NHL club as per the rumblings of their GM mid-summer. Not a pretty picture.

Up front it’s gets a little foggier. Trying to rebound from the losses of leading scorer Steve Da Silva to graduation, Arnaud Jacquemet to Europe and Ben Maxwell to the pro ranks the team still returns three of their top-five scorers. Dustin Sylvester, Michael Stickland and Andrew Bailey are no slouches but if you listen closely, fire-wagon hockey doesn't exactly come to mind. “If we’re going to score goals we’re going to have to do it by committee,” said Holick. “We don’t have a Da Silva and we’re probably not going to see Ben Maxwell. We don’t have the game-breaker some teams do have like an Ennis or a Boychuk, we don’t have that. We’ve got guys who work real hard and aren’t afraid to get their noses dirty and get into the corners. I like the make-up of our team right now but I’ll guess we’ll know more in a few weeks.”

Translation: bring your lunch bucket to the rink.

Oh, it’s not all that bad. The future, with forwards Max Reinhart, Drew Czerwonka goaltender Nathan Lieuwen and 15-year-old Brendan Hurley who plays with an edge not seen in these parts in some time, is a bright one.

Really, a down-year and not making the playoffs isn’t the end of the world, is it?

The bigger question here is what the reaction will be at the turnstiles. Hanging over the head of this team all season long will be two scoreboards; the one that counts in the standings and the one that counts the butts in the seats. Win or lose there will still be 2500 or so die-hards every night, that’s a given. The concern lies with the ability of the community to support the club to the tune of 2800 paid patrons or better, as per arena lease directives, per night. The lack of communication surrounding a new lease between the city and the club, as well as the lack of progress from either side is alarming - the two sides were hopeful of an annoucement come the end of the summer, remember?

Though to be realistic the lease does have five years left on it as long as the attendance stipulations are met.

No, what’s more alarming is how the club’s fans and hockey fans in general will respond to what all indications point to a rebuilding season in the Key City. Rebuilding that will likely take a season or two.

Now I wonder if we’ll be able to watch out how it all turns out.

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