The Kootenay Ice were inducted into the BC Hockey Hall of Fame last month, July 22, 2022, for their 2002 Memorial Cup victory.

The Kootenay Ice were inducted into the BC Hockey Hall of Fame last month, July 22, 2022, for their 2002 Memorial Cup victory.

20 years later: Kootenay Ice back in the news

What’s past is prologue — or is it?: Do the Kootenay Ice still matter to Cranbrook?

Twenty years and two and a half months ago, the Kootenay Ice won their only national championship — the Memorial Cup — in Guelph, Ontario. They played for that championship three times, but as it turns out, 2002 is what makes the history.

Last month, on July 22, the Kootenay Ice were inducted into the BC Hockey Hall of Fame for their 20-year-old achievement. It’s curious, to be reminded of this in this febrile year of 2022 — the team does not even exist anymore (they are now the Winnipeg Ice, as we all know).

There is a Shakespeare quote — “What’s past is prologue” (from “The Tempest”) — which implies that what’s happened in the past is a preparation for opportunities or events in the future. It’s a strange quote, when you think of Cranbrook and the Kootenay Ice, and it takes a while before you see how it applies.

Looking back, the 20-year era of the Kootenay Ice and the WHL seems disconnected from Cranbrook’s history prior to 1998. The WHL arrived in Cranbrook almost fully formed, and for 20 years it was the main event in town. It put an end to the Cranbrook Colts, which led to the collapse of the Rocky Mountain Junior League (and nearly the end of the Kimberley Dynamiters).

Then, just like that it seems, the Kootenay Ice and WHL were gone (in 2019). And now that team is just a distant memory, with nothing to remind us of its presence other than the existence of Western Financial Place, formerly known as the Cranbrook Rec Plex, which was built for the the Kootenay Ice 22 years ago after a divisive referendum.

Certainly, the 2002 Memorial Cup campaign was the high water mark of the Kootenay Ice experience in Cranbrook. Coming back from three games down to beat Prince George in round one of the playoffs, then Kelowna in the second round, then Red Deer in Game 6 of the third round with 4,500 fans in the Rec Plex. And then the Memorial Cup itself, with the Ice taking on the Guelph Storm, Erie Otters and Victoriaville Tigres, defeating the latter in the final.

There has been a generation’s worth of changes since that Memorial Cup in Guelph, in May, 2002 — changes too numerous to list, in technology, culture and attitudes, and significant changes to Cranbrook itself. And with the abrupt departure of the Kootenay Ice to Winnipeg in 2019, it at first feels like what’s past is not prologue, that the Kootenay Ice are as disconnected from Cranbrook’s present and future as they were from Cranbrook’s past.

But there is a throughline here. The Kootenay Ice matter. Not least because of those players who have put down roots and contributed to the community — Nathan Lieuwen, one of the owners of the new Cranbrook Bucks, for example.

There is a hockey mindset and a sporting mindset in the community that evolved with the Ice’s time in town. We are accustomed to sports on a larger stage. The Junior A Cranbrook Bucks now play in the Rec Plex, drawing the same size crowds as the Major Junior Kootenay Ice used to draw, and generating the same level of excitement as back in the day.

While our town ultimately proved to be too small a market for the WHL, the WHL’s time here helped, as they say, to put Cranbrook on the map, and helped pave the way for the Bucks — a very important fixture in the culture, economy and new zeitgeist of Cranbrook. We look forward to seeing the Bucks’ banners lining the rafters of Cranbrook’s rinks, along with the Kootenay Ice, Cranbrook Royals, Cranbrook Colts, et al.

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I had the privilege of covering the Memorial Cup in Guelph for the Cranbrook Townsman in 2002. As the team’s main correspondent, I had priority in the media scrum with head coach Ryan McGill after they won the national championship. In the midst of my interview, the players snuck up behind McGill and dumped the celebratory bucket of gatorade over him — most of the gatorade washed over me. It destroyed my tape recorder and put paid to my suit, and caused me no end of inconvenience to get the story out quickly. Still, I consider that gatorade dumping one of the great honours of my life.

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The Kootenay Ice Memorial Cup roster, 2002: Igor Agarunov, Bryan Bridges, B.J. Boxma, Nigel Dawes, Gerard Dicaire, Brennan Evans, Cole Fischer, Curtis Fransoo, Travis Featherstone, Richard Hamula, Chris LaValley, Dale Mahovsky, Steve Makway, Duncan Milroy, Shaun Norrie, Tomas Plihal, Kyle Sheen, Colin Sinclair, Jarret Stoll, Marek Svatos, Adam Taylor, Andy Thompson, Craig Weller, Jeff Chynoweth (general manager), Ryan McGill (coach), Cory Clouston (assistant coach), Roy Stasiuk (assistant general manager), Ed Chynoweth (president). Apologies to any staff members missed.

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Also inducted in the BC Hockey Hall of Fame last month were:

• 1,600 game NHL Official Jay Sharrer

• 5 time international gold medal winning Defenceman Eric Brewer

• 11 year Vancouver defender Mattias Ohlund

• Junior hockey legendary builder, the late Ray Stonehouse