The disappointment was palpable for the Kootenay Ice, after failing to make the postseason on the weekend.
The B.C. Major Midget League team fell to the Vancouver NW Giants 5-0 on Saturday and 10-3 on Sunday at the Cominco Arena to end the 2017-18 BCMML campaign with a 13-23-0-4 record. The Ice finished in ninth spot, four points behind the Vancouver NE Chiefs, who split their games with the Thompson Blazers on the weekend and wrapped up the eighth and final playoff spot.
“We played really well for the last four or five months of the season, and it put us in a position where we were close to making the playoffs,” said Kootenay head coach Kris Boyce. “You ask the guys to battle every night, and coming up to this weekend, I found that on Saturday night, it seemed like we were putting way too much pressure on ourselves to be successful.”
Kootenay had won four of it’s last five games and went into the weekend’s final two regular season matches with a must-win mandate against the Giants. But untimely injuries ultimately decimated an Ice line up, and, in the final game, Kootenay was without five of their regulars, including top defencemen Brett Walchuk and Jackson Bohan (suspended), and forwards Riley Green, Caleb Concalves, and Jared Macasso.
“We had lots of injuries for the second half of the year,” said Boyce. “We played most of the games with two lines so you can only go so far relying on two lines of guys to take you right to playoffs.”
The visiting Giants had their own agenda and were looking to overtake the Greater Vancouver Canadians and improve their seeding from sixth to fifth place for the start of the playoffs. The Giants struck first and fast scoring three minutes and 45 seconds into the first period and taking a 3-0 lead into the second. Kootenay battled in the final two periods but Vancouver goalie Niklas Hoem closed the door and the visitors added two more in the middle frame for the 5-0 shutout.
“We knew we had to win both games to make playoffs, and you could tell, on the Saturday game, we were a little uptight. A couple pucks go in the net and the wheels fall off the cart pretty quick.”
With the Ice’s playoff hopes dashed, Sunday’s game was a tough one for Kootenay, who kept it close, trailing 3-1 after one, and 5-2 after two. But the Giants ran away with it, adding five more in the third period for a convincing 10-3 victory.
With the two wins, the Giants moved ahead of the Canadians and will play the fourth-seeded Okanagan Rockets in the first round of the BCMML playoffs.
The Ice moved to Trail last year as part of the J.L. Crowe High Performance Hockey Academy and Boyce led the team to an impressive 18-21-0-1 2016-17 season, making the BCMML playoffs in his first year as head coach.
Kootenay also showed flashes of its potential brilliance with victories over the Valley West Hawks, Cariboo Cougars, and Fraser Valley Thunderbirds – the top-three teams in the league. Yet, Kootenay couldn’t string the wins together against the teams it mattered most and came up just shy of a playoff berth in 2018.
“We had a lot of highlights this year,” said Boyce. “We played the top three teams and we split with all the top three teams in the league this year, and that’s a huge accomplishment for us.
“But we played up to our competition a little bit, so the teams that we needed to beat, we didn’t beat, and if we would have beaten those teams we’d be in playoffs right now.”
Boyce will be back with the team for the 2018-19 season and, starting with Spring Camp at the end of April, will begin a major rebuild that will likely see the majority of Ice players move on to the junior ranks.
“We’re probably going to lose 95 per cent of our team to junior hockey, but that’s kind of the ultimate goal to move these kids on to higher levels of hockey. That’s what you take for success for the season, is to have your kids move on.”
In round-1 of the BCMML playoffs, the Hawks face off against the eighth-seeded Chiefs, number-2 Cougars battle the Thompson Blazers, the T-birds take on the G.V. Canadians, and the Okanagan Rockets play the Giants. The best-of-three quarter-final series start on Friday.