Okay, I'll admit it, it's been the first few games in 15 years as a fan - completely, in otherwords, no media pass; no bird's eye-view; no thick scouts/media room coffee - at least I won't miss the donuts - it was definitely different.
This blog unceremoniously ended in early August due to my new job and the commitments it entails. I don't know what I'm going to do in this space as a fan but as the Ice open their season and through the club's first three home dates, I thought I'd share some thoughts.
For what it's worth.......
Perhaps we live in the only place where the NHL lockout has seen a drop in attendance. An average of 2344 through the first three home dates. Last season's first three drew 2840 and the club drew over 2800 average throughout the season. Then again, 9 home dates in October - traditionally a lower-drawing time of the season - doesn't help.
The newly named Western Financial Place will bring in $750,000 to the building over the next decade. That's a good thing. The former Rec Plex was one of the only buildings in the WHL without a title sponsor. Now, can we use some or all of that $750,000 to upgrade the scoreclock to a video replay clock? How about the progressive 50/50 system used in other buildings (monitors around the building post the 'pot' as it gets higher)? WFP, along with the Arena in Medicine Hat, are the only buildings in the WHL without a replay screen in the building. Swift Current, which bought a system for the renovated Credit Union Iplex, spent about a million on theirs.
The 20-year-olds - Talked lots about the 20's and early on F Brock Montgomery continues to develop as a goal-scorer. Funny, a kid that made the team four seasons ago with his fists now leads with the mitts. He notched his 4th and 5th of the season last night including his first-ever short-handed goal, a bullet that beat Raider goalie Andy Desautels under the bar and exploded his waterbottle, literally, as the orange top broke apart from the green bottle. On the flip side, F Drew Czerwonka made his 20-year-old season debut last night after recovering from an off-season/training camp injury. Many ask the question of how he'll hold up over the rigors of the season? The captain played just 40 games last year. D Joey Leach missed some time last night but I don't think it was because of injury. He was dash-2 on the night including the Raiders' 5th goal on an ill-advised pinch late in the third as the Ice were pressing to tie the game... All this on the heals of the Elgin Pearce trade to Medicine Hat for a 5th round pick last week. He's minus-4 with 2 assists in three games with the Tigers - all losses - but his 21 goals will be hard to replace on this team if Czerwonka doesn't stay healthy.
The Fights - Hey, the club will win their share of them at least this season. Last Saturday's 4-2 loss to the Hurricanes at home featured a bit of a donnybrook near the end of the game. After Montgomery got high-sticked - no call - and was skating back to the bench he took exception to something they said on the way by and all hell broke loose. Canes forward Brady Ramsey left the bench and grabbed Sam Reinhart, started swinging and then fell, and got five games from the league for his troubles. Jon Martin, 17, paired up with Jaimen Yakubowski for a tussle, getting the win, but also got 3 games from the league. The WHL, of course, doesn't say why he got three games. The only thing I can think of is that it's Martin's second straight game being in a multi-fight situation after being tossed early in the home-opener against Regina for being the second fight. Why the league wouldn't explain that is beyond me. BTW, Martin is on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary list for the 2013 Draft. Fro those who didn't see the donnybrook, it's here.
The Goalies - It was a tough night for Mackenzie Skapski, who was yanked after the first period, surrendering three goals on 8 shots. Wyatt Hoflin stepped in a was terrific as the Ice clawed their way back before eventually losing 5-3. Tough as Skapski's night was, Hoflin actually got the loss as he gave-up the 4th goal before the Ice scored three. Who gets the start Wednesday against the Cougars? My money's on Hoflin.
The Roster - The club released import F Peter Vesely last week. Not a huge surprise as the Czech forward didn't make much of an impact. They kept fellow Czech Jakub Prochazka, who was marginally better last night. Still like the idea of any combination of five 20-year-olds and/or two imports. If you don't use your two imports then can add a 20. NHL would never allow it given the development money they filter down for draft eligible players. The club also released D Kyle Krabben, 17. He joined the AJHL's Okotoks Oilers and has a goal in his first two games. Thought he had a good camp from what I seen of him and he is a good, puck-moving D-man.
Coaches Corner - At the home-opener, it'd been a long time since I'd seen so many coaches in the building, not actually coaching. Yes, Ryan McGill made his return to the Rec Plex just over a decade since his last kick at things. The result was the same though not as dramatic. Last time he was behind the bench here Duncan Milroy fired a 60-footer from just inside the blueline to beat Cam Ward and the Red Deer Rebels for the 2002 WHL Championship in Game Six, double overtime. This time at least the result was the same - a 4-1 win over the Pats - for the club's 600th regular season win since their inception in Edmonton 17 years ago. On the radio broadcast was former assistant coach Colin Patterson and up in the top SW corner of the building was Mark Holick while current Detroit Red Wings Associate coach and Cranbrook product Tom Renney is helping the team as a practice coach. No word on Cory Clouston and Kris Knoblauch to complete the reunion but both are living here.
Emergency Backup - For the Ice home-opener against Regina, Pat goaltender Matt Hewitt fell ill and couldn't start, giving way to Teagan Sacher who stopped 18 shots in his WHL debut. On the bench was Cranbrook Midget Tier 2 Ice goaltender Brock Lefebrve, 15.
Former Ice captain Steve McCarthy has signed a contract with the AHL's Abbotsford Heat. McCarthy, 31, played the last few seasons in Europe. The Heat still have 31 players in training camp with just 4 days before the regular season opens. Former Ice players Max Reinhart, 20, James Martin, 21 and Marysville's Carter Bancks are with the Heat.
The Prince George Cougars are here for the first time in two years Wednesday night. The Raiders are 6-0-0-1 on the season and are in first place; the Cougars are 4-1-1 and are off to a hot start while the Ice are 1-4 and are dead last (2pts) in the WHL. Strange times indeed.