Kootenay Ice weathering the storm
By Greg Harder, Leader-Post
January 18, 2012
REGINA -- This isn't the kind of repeat the Kootenay Ice had in mind.
The defending WHL champions encountered a road block - literally - on their way to Regina on Monday night when the highway was closed just outside of Cranbrook due to a winter storm. After spending the night in nearby Sparwood, B.C., the team had breakfast Tuesday morning and waited another three hours. Informed that the road through Crowsnest Pass might still be closed for several hours, the Ice had no choice but to backtrack to Cranbrook and take a longer northern route via the Trans-Canada Highway.
If all went according to plan, the team hoped to arrive in Regina around midnight, turning a simple 10-hour trek into more than a day-long affair.
"After what we've gone through, it'll feel long," head coach Kris Knoblauch said from the bus. "It's funny, all the games that I've been with Kootenay, we only had one cancelled and that was when we were on a road trip in Saskatchewan (two seasons ago). We played in Prince Albert and the highway closed from Saskatoon to Regina. We had to postpone that game. Now we're coming from B.C. and we're in the same situation but we should be able to play (tonight)."
Knoblauch joked that the players were handling the delay a lot better than the coaches. It's just another bump in the road for a battle-tested club that always seems to roll with the punches.
That has been the case this season despite the graduation of several key players from last year's championship squad, including defenceman Brayden McNabb and centre Cody Eakin. In the absence of their star power, Kootenay remains one of the leaders in the Eastern Conference and on pace for 40-plus wins.
"A lot of it, especially early in the season, was (a product of) our experience through the Memorial Cup (run) last year," explained Knoblauch, a native of Imperial.
"The guys who were part of the team and the guys who weren't in the lineup all the time during the playoff run but were watching, they understood the importance of little things and what it takes to be successful. Early in the season we were always finding ways to win. We weren't necessarily outplaying teams but we found an edge either on a power play or blocking shots or something. We were doing those little things to make ourselves successful."
It should, since Kootenay has been going about its business in the same fashion for more than a decade, qualifying for the playoffs each of the past 13 years and winning three league titles along the way.
"Successful organizations, it's not necessarily the coaches or management passing on the important keys to success," noted Knoblauch. "It's the leaders that are passing it on. It happened (again this season). Guys like Brayden McNabb, Matt Fraser and Kevin King were passing it on to our younger guys."
It translated to a quick start for the Ice, although the team did come back down to earth in early December.
Ironically, it occurred during a trip to Saskatchewan.
"We were on a six-game road winning streak, won in Saskatoon and then we kind of fell apart in Prince Albert, gave up a lead and lost that game," recalled Knoblauch. "We lost our next three. Since that road trip we still haven't been ourselves, but we're starting to play better (going 3-1-1 in the past five). We're starting to look more like our old selves again."
KOOTENAY (25-13-2-3) at REGINA (25-17-3-1) Today, 7 p.m., Brandt Centre
Radio: 620 CKRM Key injuries: REGINA - D Brandon Underwood (ankle, day-to-day), F Chandler Stephenson (knee, one week). KOOTE-NAY - F Drew Czerwonka (undisclosed, week-to-week); D Luke Paulsen (concussion, indefinite).
Overview: The Ice has dominated Regina over the past three-plus seasons, posting a 10-1-2 record, including an active 11-game points streak (10-0-2) . . . Kootenay prevailed 5-2 in its first meeting of the season with the Pats (Sept. 30 in Cranbrook). It was Regina's first loss after opening the campaign with three straight wins . . . The Pats lost all four meetings with Kootenay last season by a combined score of 21-9 and they haven't beaten the Ice since a 5-4 OT decision on Feb. 6, 2010 . . . Like the Pats, Kootenay wins with defence and goaltending, having given up the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference (2.5 per game). G Nathan Lieuwen is ranked second in the WHL with a 2.12 GAA and a .927 save percentage . . . Offensively, the Ice is led by the Reinhart boys. Veteran C Max Reinhart (20-30-50, 39 GP) is the team's No. 1 scorer while rookie C Sam Reinhart (13-21-34, 38 GP) is the top-scoring 16-year-old in the league. Pats LW Morgan Klimchuk is third (10-15-25, 41 GP). Sam Reinhart and Klimchuk were one-two in scoring with Team Pacific at the recent World Under-17 Hockey Challenge . . . Ice captain Czerwonka (11-15- 26, 32 GP) was hurt Saturday in a 3-2 OT loss to the host Edmonton Oil Kings. The Glenavon native is a former member of the midget AAA Regina Pat Canadians . . . Pats C Jordan Weal (28-48-76, 45 GP) is No. 2 in the WHL scoring race, two points behind Ty Rattie of the Portland Winterhawks (40-38-78, 43 GP). Weal is also ranked first in the league with 48 assists, second in plus-minus (+32), tied for second with four short-handed goals and tied for fifth with five game-winners.
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