There’s a lot that can be said about 2016 from a Cranbrook sports fan perspective, but it certainly was not dull. Although the city’s premiere sports team, the Kootenay Ice, had their worst season in history and missed the playoffs for the first time in their history, plenty of players have made the slide tolerable.
Goalie Wyatt Hoflin set franchise records at the end of the 2015-16 season before his replacement Payton Lee made waves by coming back to his hometown and being brilliant in net.
The Ice also drafted 15-year-old phenom Peyton Krebs, the first overall pick at the WHL Bantam Draft over the summer. The whiz kid has already given fans a reason to think the future in Kootenay could be very bright.
Add in current star players like Cale Fleury and Zak Zborosky making headlines and the Ice’s supposedly miserable year doesn’t look half-bad.
Outside the rink, the College of the Rockies Avalanche volleyball program put themselves on the map in a big way in 2016. The women won the school’s first ever provincial PACWEST championship in February in a stunning underdog story and players from both teams have given fans reasons to be excited about upcoming seasons.
Away from the Key City, local athletes have made an impact on the global stage as well. Tristen Chernove showed in 2016 that he is one of the world’s premier para-cyclists and Ben Soles strong-armed his way to another medal in competitive arm wrestling.
Here’s a closer look at some of the best achievements of Cranbrook’s finest athletic performers of 2016.
1. COTR Avalanche Women’s Volleyball Team
Fifteen years after its inception, the Avs volleyball program finally won the school’s first provincial championship on February 27 in some of the most improbable of circumstances. The Avs entered the playoffs in sixth place in the PACWEST conference — there are seven teams in the league and only one doesn’t qualify for the post-season — but were ultimately victorious in a series of upsets on their way to the finals.
In the gold medal match, COTR met up with the number one ranked VIU Mariners, back-to-back PACWEST champions who had carved out an unbelievable 20-4 record in the regular season. VIU proceeded to take an early two set lead in the match, but the Avs clawed their way back and managed to take the game with a 15-10 fifth set win.
Power hitter Kelsey Thompson was named the tournament’s MVP and libero Alexa Koshman had a team leading 26 digs in the final match.
“Thinking back, I still get goosebumps,” Koshman told the Townsman in September. “I really knew we could do it. I knew we had it in us, but I didn’t know we were going to execute that well. If you look on paper, [we were] the sixth-ranked team going into provincials and to win, it [was] just absurd.”
The Avs then got the opportunity to go to the CCAA National Championships in March in PEI, and while they finished sixth and the tournament was won by VIU, the 2015-16 season was the biggest highlight in COTR’s volleyball program history.
Although the 2016-17 season hasn’t quite lived up to the hype the team created through last year’s playoffs — they have a 4-8 record so far and are in sixth place — as we now know, there is no reason why 2017 can’t be another banner year.
2. Tristen Chernove
When it comes to individual athletes living in Cranbrook, no one brought home as many big-time accolades as Chernove did this past year. The 41-year-old para-cyclist won three medals at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, adding to the two gold medals he won at the World Championships in March.
What’s all the more impressive is that 2016 was Chernove’s debut year as a competitive cyclist. A former paddler who took up the sport after being diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, a degenerative condition of the lower legs with symptoms similar to muscular dystrophy, Chernove lit up the paracycling world in 2016. He will now look to build upon his impressive rookie season as he jumps into the 2017 Paracycling World Cup circuit.
3. Wyatt Hoflin
On February 26, Hoflin etched his name into Kootenay Ice history with a twenty save performance against the Edmonton Oil Kings. While the game was a pretty forgettable one — the Ice lost 6-2 at home — Hoflin established himself as the all-time franchise save-leader surpassing Nathan Lieuwen with his 4,189th stop.
Hoflin had been the team’s second-round pick in 2010 and played a total of 179 games before aging out of the WHL at the end of the 2015-16 season. While his final year with the team didn’t include too many wins, it was special nonetheless with Hoflin earning a shutout in his 150th career game on February 6 and ending the season by winning the prestigious Rod Hunter Ltd. Players Award, an honour bestowed upon him from his fellow players for his dedication, perseverance and commitment to the game of hockey.
4. Ben Soles
It may not be the world’s most popular sport, but becoming one of the best arm-wrestlers in the world is not an easy task by any means. Competing at the 2016 World Armwrestling Championships in Bulgaria, Ben Soles’ years of hard work paid off with a silver medal.
Soles placed second in the 90 kg Grand Master Division, losing his final match to Poland in an event that had over 1300 competitors and 45 countries represented. It was Soles’ second medal and fourth appearance at the Worlds, having won in 2008 and competing in 1993 and 2010.
5. Peyton Krebs
The silver-lining to finishing last place in the WHL in 2015-16 for the Kootenay Ice, was winning the Bantam Draft Lottery and getting the chance to pick Krebs. Although some may have been disappointed that the Ice didn’t pick up locally raised defenceman Bowen Byram, who went third overall to the Vancouver Giants, Krebs has already impressed Cranbrook.
Although he’s still a year away from being eligible to play full-time with the Ice, in his three call-up games with Kootenay in 2016, he picked up two assists and was impressive while playing significant minutes as a 15-year-old. Krebs also captained Team Alberta to a first place finish at the Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup in October while earning a tournament all-star team spot. Krebs is expected to appear in a couple more games with the Ice in January and be a member of the team next season.
6. Rhys Marlatt
The Mount Baker Secondary Wild had too many impressive teams in 2016 to list them all, but one standout performer who was impossible to ignore was swimmer Rhys Marlatt. Marlatt set a new BC High School 100-metre fly record in November, leading the swim team to 19th out of 113 teams at the Provincial competition.
As a member of the Cranbrook Tritons swimming team, Marlatt also represented the city well earning two gold medals and two silver medals at the 2016 Speedo Western Canadian Open in Winnipeg in February.
7. Zak Zborosky
If you’re a Kootenay Ice fan, you better know how to pronounce “Zborosky” by now. The 20-year-old winger has been a goal-scoring machine in his penultimate and final seasons. Since January 1, 2016, Zborosky has lit the lamp for the Ice 46 times in 71 games. He has two hat-tricks, 85 points, and has been a strong leader as one of the team’s alternate captains.
For the 2015-16 season, ‘Z’ was awarded with the Apollo Ristorante Most Valuable Player Award and through the first half of 2016-17, he’s tied for second amongst all WHL players in goal-scoring. While he’ll be playing his final games with the team this year, he is certainly looking like he’ll go out strong.
Meanwhile in Kimberley…
There was no shortage of sports excitement in Kimberley in 2016. With the Dynamiters Junior B hockey team winning the Eddie Mountain Division and competing in the KIJHL finals, and Jared du Toit lighting up the international golfing world, it was quite the year for the community.
Here are some of their top sports newsmakers of 2016.
1. Jared du Toit
Although he’s been a household name in Kimberley for a long time, du Toit put his name on the world map in 2016 with an amazing performance at the RBC Canadian Open.
2. Kimberley Dynamiters
After making it to the KIJHL finals in 2015-16, this season looks to be just as good, if not better, as the Nitros are in first place in the Eddie Mountain Division through 33 games in 2016-17.
3. Selkirk High School Curling
Composed of skip Alysha Buchy, second Haylie Farquhar, third Kaila Buchy, and lead Arissa Toffolo, Selkirk won the BC High School Provincial Championship in Delta, BC in March.
4. Jerry and Carter Bancks
An important figure in Kimberley hockey, Jerry retired as GM and coach of the Dynamiters in April. His son Carter was named captain of the AHL’s Utica Comets in October.