Cariboo Cougars close out Kootenay Ice season

The Major Midget Kootenay Ice lost to the Cariboo Cougars in the first round of the BCMML playoff on the weekend.

The Kootenay Ice fell prey to the Cariboo Cougars on the weekend

The Kootenay Ice fell prey to the Cariboo Cougars on the weekend

A turnaround season by the BC Major Midget Kootenay Ice came to an end on Saturday, after being swept by the number-1 team in the league, the Cariboo Cougars, in the first round of the BC Major Midget League playoffs.

Cariboo beat the Ice 5-1 in Game 1 on Friday in Prince George, before skating to a close 3-0 win Saturday to take the best-of-three quarterfinal series in two games.

“You know you’re going in there playing a number-1 team, maybe the number-1 ranked team in Canada,” said Ice head coach Kris Boyce. “We went in there and we knew we had to battle hard, and out-work them to beat them.”

In Game 2, former Ice forward Hunter Floris opened the scoring midway through the first period beating Jake Kemp for a 1-0 lead. Ty Kolle scored his first of the playoffs five minutes later, and Trey Thomas iced it late in the third for the victory.

“It was 2-0 right until the end of the game,” said Boyce. “We had our opportunities, we just couldn’t bury. They’re a good team and they don’t allow very many shots on net, they really put the pressure on you.”

The Cougars jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead in Game 1, before Kootenay’s Aiden Jenner scored to draw the Ice within two. But a late second-period goal from Thomas and a third-period tally from Brandon Rowley rounded out the scoring for the home side.

“The first game didn’t really feel like a playoff game, and it wasn’t until after the first period in the second game that the boys started pushing them back, and really playing hockey,” said Boyce. “They outshot us pretty bad. But you think of the chances that we had and if we score on them we’re right in the game.”

While the Round 1 exit is disappointing, the Kootenay Ice coach sees it as a learning process and a season of firsts for the Ice. Kootenay won more games (18) than any other Ice team and made the playoffs for the first time in its 11-year history, all in its first season as part of the J. L. Crowe High Performance Hockey Academy.

“It’s a huge success for our team and helps out the Academy team, even maybe the (Trail) Smoke Eaters and the (Beaver Valley) Nitehawks eventually,” said Boyce. “They’ll be drawing those players in and our team is only going to get stronger.”

The Kootenay Ice has already seen a big boost in the numbers of skaters signed up for its spring camp next month, and looks forward to preparing for next season. As for the learning curve, Boyce says staying out of penalty trouble at crucial times is key, and adjusting systems to match their opponent.

“Discipline is probably the biggest thing, and just shutting offence down,” said Boyce. “We did a pretty good job of that all year, and that’s why we were successful in half the games, so we just need to do more of that.”

The Ice coach expects about six or seven players to return to the lineup next season, with many graduating to the junior ranks.

“That’s why they’re playing major midget so they can develop and play junior hockey. That’s our goal to develop them into junior hockey players, and the more I lose for next year, the more satisfied I’d be because then I knew I did a good job.”

In the other series, the Vancouver NE Chiefs eliminated the Valley West Hawks in two games and will play the Greater Vancouver Canadians, who beat out the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds. The Cougars take on the surprising Vancouver NW Giants who upset the Okanagan Rockets in two straight, in best-of-three semifinal series.