It was the dying seconds in the last — the very, very last — game the Kootenay Ice would ever play in Cranbrook, Sunday, March 17. The Ice were up 5-4 over the Red Deer Rebels.
The crowd was larger than usual, boisterous and vocal. They were cheering on the “home team” to finish off the season with a win. To finish off the “Kootenay” in Kootenay Ice victoriously. The Rebels were pressing hard in the Kootenay zone.
Suddenly, the Ice were called for holding. Only 11 seconds left on the clock. Boos reigned down upon the refs. Obloquy, invective, calumny and opprobrium. But the Ice player went to the penalty box, and the refs called for an extra second and a half to be added to the clock. Play resumed, and the clock started again.
But the wrong button on the clock had been pushed — it began running backwards. Suddenly, 12.5 seconds became 15, 15 became 20. The fans roared with rage, and pointed aloft, at the clock running backwards in time.
The game continued, the players skating backwards. Ice forward Michael Milne positioned himself in front of the Red Deer goal, and the puck came flying out of the net and landed perfectly on his stick, while the crowd roared. Game tied.
A few minutes later, after conferring in the corner and giving each other group hugs, the Red Deer Rebels worked their way to the front of the Ice goal. The puck came dribbling out, and the Ice had the lead again — 4-3.
The game proceeded in exciting fashion, until it was a tense no-score. The players stopped and lined up, and Robin Sudo came out and sang the national anthem. Then we all stood up, and filed out of Western Financial Place, walking backwards to our cars, then driving away in reverse.
And so on — game after game, season after season.
The crowds at Western Financial Place got more and more numerous, and more and more vocal. Western Financial Place took its name off the arena, and we started calling it the Rec Plex. We couldn’t think of another name, you see.
The years went by. A company called Keen Rose came to town, changed their name to Vestar, and then back to Keen Rose. After arguing with Cranbrook City Hall for a bit, they took down the Rex Plex arena, brick by brick, and put up an old swimming pool in its place. They then argued with Cranbrook City Hall some more, before leaving town forever.
Meanwhile, the Kootenay Ice were tearing up the Western Hockey League, and taking Cranbrook off the map in the process. They started playing in the old Memorial Arena, and boy, that was fun. One playoff season, the City workers were on strike, and stood outside the arena with signs. But then playoffs ended and they went back to work.
The people of Cranbrook at that point got involved politically. The City of Cranbrook put out a number of ballot boxes, about whether a new arena should be built. But we the voters were having none of it. We went to those ballot boxes, reached in, and pulled the ballots out. We then argued with each other for several weeks, getting less and less angry as time went on.
The Kootenay Ice played a few more games, before they packed up all their gear, and left town for a big Western Canadian city where, presumably, they would get a larger attendance and make more money.
With a nod to Martin Amis, and “Time’s Arrow,” and the late, great Kurt Vonnegut, and “Slaughterhouse Five.” Kurt, we miss you.