The upcoming season is going to be a big one for the Kootenay Ice.
Over the off-season, the team introduced a new ownership group, a new general manager, a new coaching staff, a new goalie, and even a new logo and uniforms.
2017-18 will truly be the start of ‘a new Ice age’ and while the team wants you to be at every game, there are a few that should be especially memorable.
Here is a look at five games that Ice fans will certainly want to circle on their calendars.
1. Home opener vs. Calgary Hitmen (Friday, September 22)
For the third straight season, the Ice will open the year with a home-and-home series against the Calgary Hitmen.
This year, the action starts in Cranbrook on a Friday night and fans will get their first look at the new local ‘fan experience’ against their historical rivals from Calgary.
The chance to boo the Hitmen along with a revitalized Kootenay crowd, while also getting to watch incoming star-rookie Peyton Krebs is certainly can’t miss entertainment.
While the Hitmen-Ice rivalry has been a little one-sided in recent years — Kootenay has lost their last 16 matches with their last win coming on December 28, 2014 — maybe the franchise’s new look and attitude is just what they need to get over the hump.
A grudge match against Calgary is always good fun and this year’s home opener should be that and then some.
2. Champs come to town vs. Seattle Thunderbirds (Friday, October 27)
Everybody want to take a shot at the champs and the Ice will get their chance in October.
Although the Thunderbirds had a tough time at the Memorial Cup, they are nonetheless the reigning WHL champions and the Ice would take great pride in handing them a loss.
Last season, Kootenay came up just short while playing Seattle on the road, losing 4-3 in overtime. Rookie goalie Jakob Walter was incredible that night, making 38 saves and keeping his team in the game with amazing saves.
Walter could be back in 2017-18 in an expanded role and if he suits up against Seattle again, it could very well be another magic performance.
3. Teddy Bear Toss vs. Calgary Hitmen (Saturday, December 16)
For the 19th straight season, it’ll rain teddy bears in Cranbrook this winter.
The ‘Teddy Bear, Toque and Mitten Toss’ is a yearly tradition in which fans are encouraged to bring wrapped teddies, toques and mittens to the game and throw them on the ice when Kootenay scores their first goal.
It’s always one of the most well-attended games of the year and has been the source of many memorable moments.
From Nigel Dawes 1-0 OT winner in 2003 to Matt Alfaro’s goal just 34 seconds into the 2015 game, Ice fans never know when they’ll get to let their furry friends fly.
Two times, the celebration has had to wait until the end of the game because Kootenay were shutout, but the team scored at least one goal at every home game last year so it shouldn’t be a problem.
Western Financial Place is always a madhouse on teddy night and it will certainly be interesting to see if the crowd can outdo themselves this year.
4. Clash of the Krebs vs. Tri City Americans (Friday, February 16)
There’s always something compelling about sibling rivalries and this year Cranbrook will get a glimpse of some brotherly love.
Last season, Peyton Krebs faced off against his brother Dakota for the first time away from the backyard in a road game in Tri City.
Dakota, an 18-year-old defenceman, got the best of his little brother in round one as his team won 7-4. Peyton was held pointless and was a -3, the roughest outing of his young WHL career.
This season, as a 16-year-old full-time rookie, Peyton will be looking for revenge. The chance to show off his skills to his brother in front of his home crowd could very well lead to some fireworks.
Ice-American games are only a yearly occurrence and happen in Cranbrook once every two seasons, so this has all the makings of a very special night.
5. St. Patrick’s Day closer vs. Red Deer Rebels (Saturday, March 17)
If all goes to plan, this game should mean a lot more than it did over the last two seasons.
After two straight futile years of having their fate outside of the playoff picture settled long before the last game of the season, the Ice should be fighting to the bitter end in 2018.
A festive St. Patty’s day bout against their divisional rival Rebels — with playoff implications — should be an exciting way to end the regular season.
In seven games last season, the Ice beat Red Deer twice and were involved in enough close games, as well as blowouts, to ensure some bad blood between the two teams.
Every game against the Rebels should be a tight physical affair and the last game of the season is certainly primed to be a fun night.
BONUS: Three road games to listen to
1. Brandon Wheat Kings (Friday, November 3)
The Ice travel to Brandon once a year for a pair of games and this time it will be an extra special occasion.
New Ice president and general manager Matt Cockell cut his teeth in the WHL as a goalie coach for the Wheat Kings so this should be a homecoming of sorts for him.
Kootenay’s roster also has a number of Manitoba connections with Vince Loschiavo, Michael King, Brett Davis and Mario Petit all coming from the Winnipeg-area and defenceman Sam Huston being a Brandon-native.
2. Vancouver Giants (Saturday, December 9)
The Ice’s winter visit to the Lower Mainland will be the club’s first ever game at the Giants new Langley home, but it will be a Cranbrook-connection that makes it a game to pay attention to.
Bowen Byram is one of the most-hyped local players to ever come out of the Kootenays and as a 2016 third overall Giants draft pick, he should be playing the Ice for the first time this year.
A few Ice players should also be looking to raise their game in their hometown, with Colton Kroeker, Ryan Pouliot, Bobby Russell and Jakob Walter all hailing from the Vancouver area.
3. Lethbridge Hurricanes (Tuesday, January 2)
As fellow Central Division teams, games between the Ice and ‘Canes are always good but they’ve become even more significant since last season.
The trade that sent Ice overagers Zak Zborosky and Matt Alfaro to Lethbridge in exchange for Brett Davis and Colton Kroeker only had lasting effects in the Ice’s favour, but you can bet those two players will bring their A game every time they return to the Windy City.
In three games against his old team last year, Kroeker had four goals and with Brett Davis now a drafted NHL prospect, Lethbridge should be wary about their first return of 2017-18.
Other Schedule Facts
The Ice will play 10 of their first 15 games at home.
Their longest homestand of the season will take place from January 19 to February 3 (a stretch of seven games) and the longest road trip will be five games, which happens twice (December 2-9 and January 2-13).
Kootenay play the most games against the Central Division (34) including seven against Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Medicine Hat and six against Edmonton. They play 24 times against the East Division (12 home and 12 away), nine against the U.S. Division (seven home and two away) and five road games against the B.C. Division (all five are played between December 2-9).
The Ice have no games scheduled from December 18-26 for the Christmas break.