The Kootenay Ice will open the 2015-16 WHL season with a home-and-home series against the Calgary Hitmen on Sept. 25 and 26.

The Kootenay Ice will open the 2015-16 WHL season with a home-and-home series against the Calgary Hitmen on Sept. 25 and 26.

Kootenay Ice to open WHL’s 50th season against Calgary Hitmen

Kootenay Ice home opener at Western Financial Place set for Friday, Sept. 25

The Kootenay Ice, along with the Western Hockey League, released regular season schedules for the 2015-16 WHL campaign Wednesday morning and there are plenty of highlights to look forward to for hockey fans in Cranbrook.

The Ice will open the WHL’s 50th season with a home-and-home series against the Calgary Hitmen, a longtime Central Division rival. The Hitmen visit Cranbrook Friday, Sept. 25, before returning home to host the Ice Saturday, Sept. 26.

“We’re thrilled to be preparing for our 18th season here and can’t wait to get started,” said Chris Wahl, Kootenay Ice director of sales and public relations, Wednesday morning.

“We’re excited. It’s a long off-season, but now having that blueprint in place of where you’re going to be and when over the course of the season, people can start marking it down on their calendars if they have a particular team they want to see.”

Special dates Kootenay Ice fans may want to mark down include a Halloween afternoon game against the Seattle Thunderbirds, the annual teddy bear toss game on Saturday, Dec. 12 (against the Swift Current Broncos) and a New Year’s Eve game featuring the Red Deer Rebels (4 p.m.).

As is the norm, the Ice will play a total of 72 games through the 2015-16 season, with 36 dates at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook.

Of those 36 home dates, 24 will be played on weekends, with 13 Friday contests, 10 Saturday outings and one Sunday affair.

The longest home stand for the Ice comes from Feb. 2, 2016 through Feb. 12, 2016, when the club will play five games, including a Wednesday, Feb. 10 date (12 p.m.) against the Tri-City Americans.

The mid-week matinee is tentatively slated to be marketed as a hockey hooky-style outing, similar to that of which the Edmonton Oil Kings have successfully run for a number of years. The Ice served as the Oil Kings opponent for the 2015 CN Hockey Hooky event Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, at Rexall Place.

“We want to try the hockey hooky that we’ve seen be successful in other markets like Edmonton and Vancouver,” Wahl said. “We’ve had some discussions with our local school districts and feel there’s some interest to pursue that.

“It’s a chance to incorporate the schools into an event at one of our games. In chatting with the school board, there’s the possibility to include some kind of educational components, incorporate hockey in the classroom.

“I hope goes over well and we will be able to pull students, not just in Cranbrook, but from around the East Kootenay and expose them to our brand.”

Other than the Spokane Chiefs, which the Ice will take on five times in continuing a long-standing border battle, the rest of the U.S. Division will visit Cranbrook once in 2015-16 after staying home in 2014-15.

The Thunderbirds visit Western Financial Place on Oct. 31 while the Everett Silvertips travel to Cranbrook for a date with the Ice on Tuesday, Nov. 17.

The Americans (Feb. 10) and Portland Winterhawks (Saturday, Feb. 27) visit during the month of February.

The Ice and Chiefs will engage in a five-game season series, including three games at Western Financial Place (Oct. 2, Jan. 22, Feb. 12).

Having hosted the B.C. Division during the 2014-15 WHL season, the Ice will trek throughout the province in early December, setting out on a season-high five-game road trip that will take them from Kamloops to Prince George.

The five-game B.C. swing will see the Ice play the Blazers (Dec. 1), Kelowna Rockets (Dec. 2), Vancouver Giants (Dec. 4), Victoria Royals (Dec. 5) and Coguars (Dec. 8).

No different from any other year, the Ice will see plenty of its Central Division rivals.

The Ice play a total of 34 games against Central Division rivals, including seven against each of the Hitmen, Lethbridge Hurricanes, Medicine Hat Tigers and Red Deer Rebels. The Ice will face the Oil Kings six times.

The Ice take on East Division squads four times each (two at home; two on the road).

All home games at Western Financial Place are slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday with the exception of any previously listed special dates.

The lone Sunday game at Western Financial Place — Dec. 27 vs. Calgary Hitmen — will be a 4 p.m. start.

In addition to excitement of WHL hockey at Western Financial Place, fans in Cranbrook can expect an enhanced in-game experience with the onset of the 2015-16 campaign.

A new sound system has been installed in the building and Wahl is hopeful it will help create a more electric and lively atmosphere on game nights.

Kootenay Ice season tickets are on sale now and will be up until Oct. 6.

Single-game tickets for the first three home games of the season will be available to purchase beginning Friday, Aug. 21.

Notes: Kootenay Ice prospect Griffin Mendel has been invited to Hockey Canada’s 2015 National Under-17 Development Camp. Mendel, a former first-round pick (11th overall) of the Ice at the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft, is one of 111 invitees to the camp, which helps to determine the 66 players that will represent Canada at the 2015 World U-17 Hockey Challenge. Mendel is committed to the BCHL’s Penticton Vees for the 2015-16 season.

2015-16 Kootenay Ice schedule:

Exhibition

Tuesday, Sept. 8 vs. Lethbridge (at Memorial Arena)Thursday, Sept. 10 at Tri-CityFriday, Sept. 11 vs. Seattle (at Tri-City)Saturday, Sept. 12 vs. Prince George (at Tri-City)Thursday, Sept. 17 vs. Lethbridge (at Crowsnest Pass)Saturday, Sept. 19 vs. Calgary (at Crowsnest Pass)

September

Fri., Sept. 25 vs. Calgary Hitmen – Home OpenerSat., Sept. 26 at Calgary Hitmen

October

Fri., Oct. 2 vs. Spokane ChiefsSat., Oct. 3 vs. Lethbridge HurricanesTues., Oct. 6 at Prince Albert RaidersWed., Oct. 7 at Saskatoon BladesFri., Oct. 9 at Brandon Wheat KingsSat., Oct. 10 at Moose Jaw WarriorsWed., Oct. 14 vs. Moose Jaw WarriorsFri., Oct. 16 at Medicine Hat TigersSat., Oct. 17 vs. Prince Albert RaidersTues., Oct. 20 vs. Regina PatsFri., Oct. 23 vs. Saskatoon BaldesSat., Oct. 24 at Red Deer RebelsMon., Oct. 26 at Edmonton Oil KingsFri., Oct. 30 vs. Brandon Wheat KingsSat., Oct. 31 vs. Seattle Thunderbirds

November

Fri., Nov. 6 vs. Medicine Hat TigersSat., Nov. 7 at Lethbridge HurricanesFri., Nov. 13 at Calgary HitmenSat., Nov. 14 at Medicine Hat TigersTues., Nov. 17 vs. Everett SilvertipsFri., Nov. 20 vs. Moose Jaw WarriorsSat., Nov. 21 vs. Swift Current BroncosWed., Nov. 25 vs. Red Deer RebelsThurs., Nov. 26 at Lethbridge HurricanesSat., Nov. 28 vs. Lethbridge Hurricanes

December

Tues., Dec. 1 at Kamloops BlazersWed., Dec. 2 at Kelowna RocketsFri., Dec. 4 at Vancouver GiantsSat., Dec. 5 at Victoria RoyalsTues., Dec. 8 at Prince George CougarsSat., Dec. 12 vs. Swift Current Broncos – Teddy Bear TossTues., Dec. 15 vs. Red Deer RebelsFri., Dec. 18 at Red Deer RebelsSat., Dec. 19 at Edmonton Oil KingsSun., Dec. 27 vs. Calgary HitmenMon., Dec. 28 at Calgary HitmenThurs., Dec. 31 vs. Red Deer Rebels

January

Sat., Jan. 2 at Moose Jaw WarriorsSun., Jan. 3 at Swift Current BroncosFri., Jan. 8 vs. Regina PatsSat., Jan. 9 at Lethbridge HurricanesTues., Jan. 12 vs. Saskatoon BladesFri., Jan. 15 vs. Prince Albert RaidersSat., Jan. 16 vs. Medicine Hat TigersFri., Jan. 22 vs. Spokane ChiefsSat., Jan. 23 at Spokane ChiefsFri., Jan. 29 at Red Deer RebelsSun., Jan. 31 at Edmonton Oil Kings

February

Tues., Feb. 2 vs. Edmonton Oil KingsFri., Feb. 5 vs. Red Deer RebelsSat., Feb. 6 vs. Lethbridge HurricanesWed., Feb. 10 vs. Tri-City Americans – Hockey HookyFri., Feb. 12 vs. Spokane ChiefsSat., Feb. 13 at Spokane ChiefsWed., Feb. 17 at Brandon Wheat KingsFri., Feb. 19 at Regina PatsSat., Feb. 20 at Swift Current BroncosWed., Feb. 24 vs. Brandon Wheat KingsFri., Feb. 26 vs. Edmonton Oil KingsSat., Feb. 27 vs. Portland Winterhawks

March

Tues., March 1 at Medicine Hat TigersWed., March 2 at Regina PatsFri., March 4 at Prince Albert RaidersSat., March 5 at Saskatoon BladesTues., March 8 vs. Lethbridge HurricanesFri., March 11 at Medicine Hat TigersSat., March 12 vs. Medicine Hat TigersTues., March 15 vs. Edmonton Oil KingsFri., March 18 vs. Calgary HitmenSun., March 20 at Calgary Hitmen