Six Kootenay Ice games to look forward to in 2018-19

Team releases 68-game 2018-19 schedule, highlighted by games against rivals, return of Bowen Byram

The Western Hockey League released their 2018-19 schedule on Tuesday morning, ushering in a new era for the league. The WHL decreased the total games per team in a season from 72 to 68, aligning them further with the OHL and QMJHL.

While the Kootenay Ice will be playing two fewer home games this upcoming year, their schedule is still packed with plenty of intriguing matchups. In total, the Ice will play six games against each of their Central Division rivals, four games against teams in the East Division and a single game against each Western Conference team — except for the geographically close, Spokane Chiefs, who they face five times.

For each Eastern Conference series, the home and away games are split, while every B.C. Division team will pay a visit to Western Financial Place and the Ice will have a road trip through the American Division. Two of their five games against the Chiefs will be in Cranbrook.

Kootenay will play nine of their first 15 games at Western Financial Place and their longest homestand is a four-game stretch from Sunday, November 18 to 28. The weekend dominates their schedule with 12 home games on Fridays, seven on Saturdays, five on Sundays, three on Mondays and four on Wednesdays.

On the road, the team’s longest trip is a six-game swing from January 9 to 19 with stops in Lethbridge, Swift Current, Regina and Brandon.

Eight games will be played in the afternoon in Cranbrook in 2018-19, with six of them designated as “Family Funday games presented by Ktunaxa Nation Council”. The Ice are also planning a Cranbrook Colts Celebration Game (which will feature the debut of the new Ice retro third jersey), a camouflage jersey theme night, as well as the annual Pink the Rink Anti-Bullying Awareness game. The dates of these games will be announced later on in the year, along with further promotional details.

While the Ice will be working hard to compete every night this upcoming season, there are a few games that should be special.

1. Home Opener vs. Calgary Hitmen (Saturday, September 22)

It has become an annual tradition. The Kootenay Ice will once again kick off their new season against their biggest historical rival. Beyond the natural excitement of a home opener at Western Financial Place, the animosity between the Ice and the Calgary Hitmen should be higher than it’s been in years come puck drop.

On day one of the 2017-18 season, the Cranbrook squad ended a 16-game losing streak against the Hitmen (which dated back to December 2014) and did so against former owner and general manager Jeff Chynoweth, who joined Calgary as their GM last offseason. From there, the Ice went on to dominate the season series with a 5-1-0-1 record, which included a stretch of four straight games against each other around the Christmas holidays.

Although both teams missed the playoffs, significant strides were made throughout last year’s campaigns on both sides and an increase in maturity and skill should be expected from the young franchises. The game will also pit Ice centre Peyton Krebs against his brother Dakota. In two WHL meetings, Peyton is yet to get the better of his defenceman sibling and is hoping that will change soon.

2. Moose Jaw Warriors (Sunday, November 18)

The winners of the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as the WHL regular season champions in 2017-18, the Warriors will no doubt be a very different team when they make their first visit to Cranbrook next season.

With the league’s leading scorer, Jayden Halbgewachs, aging out of junior hockey after an incredible 70-goal season, the team will be looking for breakout performances from their young talent to fill the mantle. Last season, the Ice managed one upset win in four meetings against Moose Jaw. While this year’s first battle should be a more even contest, the defending top regular season team will not be a group to take lightly.

With head coach Tim Hunter still at the helm, the Warriors should once again be a mean, hard-checking team that provides an entertaining test for a youthful Ice group. Moose Jaw always comes packing with plenty of hits and speed, and if the Ice respond in turn, it should be a fun afternoon at Western Financial Place.

For Vancouver Canucks fans, the game will also provide a chance to see recent second-round draft pick Jett Woo, a defenceman who was selected 37th overall.

3. Vancouver Giants (Sunday, January 6)

With only a single meeting each year, building a rivalry against a B.C. Division team does not come naturally for Kootenay. This year’s visit from the Vancouver Giants, however, is one of the most anticipated hockey games in Cranbrook history for a different reason.

Barring any unfortunate injury, the early January contest should see the first ever WHL homecoming for defenceman, Bowen Byram. The third overall pick in the 2016 Bantam Draft, Byram was raised in, and lives in Cranbrook, but was passed over by the Ice in favour of forward Peyton Krebs who was taken first in that draft.

While Ice fans have been very happy with Krebs, who led the league in rookie scoring in 2017-18, Byram has also excelled in Vancouver. Named the Western Conference ‘Rookie of the Year’, the 17-year-old has been highly touted by many media sources as the top available blueliner for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.

Adding a little more fun, Krebs and Byram are good friends and have been teammates several times on the international stage with the Canadian national team. In Kootenay’s last game against the Giants in Langley, Byram did not play due to injury and watched as his team pulled off a comeback 4-3 overtime victory. Next year, he should finally line up against his childhood team and look to put on a good show against a great deal of fellow young talent on the other side.

In addition to Byram, the Giants also have three players who were drafted into the NHL earlier this month: import forward Milos Roman (Calgary Flames), goalie David Tendeck (Arizona Coyotes) and defenceman Alex Kannok-Leipert (Washington Capitals).

4. Victoria Royals (Monday, December 31)

For the first time since 2015-16, fans will get a chance to ring in the new year with the Kootenay Ice at home. A rare afternoon Monday game, the Victoria Royals will make their only visit of the season to Cranbrook on the final day of 2018.

In their only meeting last season, the Ice were demolished 10-3 on the road against the Royals. After nearly a year to let that ferment, Kootenay will surely be looking for revenge in front of their home crowd. The Royals, however, could have one of the strongest 20-year-old groups in the league next season with star forwards Matthew Phillips and Dante Hannoun, as well as goalie Griffen Outhouse, all potentially returning.

Last season, the Royals made it to the second round of the playoffs after a highly entertaining seven-game series against the Vancouver Giants. In seven seasons in the league, Victoria has never missed the playoffs, but have also failed to advance past the conference semifinals. Matching up against an Ice team in a playoff-drought, both teams should be highly motivated in every game next season to take that next step.

5. Swift Current Broncos (Friday, February 1)

Everybody wants to take their shot at the champs and the Kootenay Ice will be no different come February. In their second meeting of the season, the Ed Chynoweth Cup winners will look to keep up the success they had against the Ice last year, in which they went 3-1.

Just like the Warriors, the Broncos will have a different lineup for 2018-19, with a few key players moving on, but their holdovers will no doubt play with significant pride. A familiar face to Ice fans will be forward Max Patterson, who was traded by Kootenay last September and went on to become a WHL champion by May.

The goaltender for the Broncos will also be a player to watch. A backup netminder last season, Joel Hofer was the second Canadian goalie drafted into the NHL this summer, going in the fourth round to the St. Louis Blues.

6. Season Finale vs. Red Deer Rebels (Sunday, March 17)

The Rebels broke a lot of Kootenay hearts last year when their late season push knocked the Ice out of the final Central Division playoff spot late in the season. By the 2017-18 season finale between Kootenay and Red Deer, the games were meaningless for the standings, but provided a nice ending with a couple of Kootenay wins.

This coming season, the rivalry built up between the two teams could reach a boiling point and by the time Kootenay’s last game of the year rolls around, both teams will be hoping for a very significant showdown.

The Ice were dominant in head-to-head matches with the Rebels last season, with a 5-1-0-1 record overall. Besides the final game, which was a 5-0 Kootenay win against a Red Deer ‘B’ lineup, every meeting in Cranbrook between the two teams last season was decided by a single goal.

If the intense rivalry isn’t enough, the Red Deer Rebels had two players drafted into the NHL last weekend. Russian import defenceman Alexander Alexeyev went in the first round (13 overall) to the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, and Canadian defenceman Dawson Barteaux was selected in the sixth-round by the Dallas Stars, making him a potential future teammate of Ice forward Brett Davis.

For a full look at the Kootenay Ice 2018-19 schedule, follow this link to the Kootenay Ice website: http://whl.ca/schedule/266/222

Cranbrook Townsman

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