With the Western Hockey League’s 50th anniversary season drawing near, the league used Tuesday to unveil its list of the top 125 players in WHL history, featuring four Kootenay Ice alumni and three Cranbrook natives.
Cranbrook natives Ray Allison, Don Murdoch and Scott Niedermayer were recognized by a committee of WHL experts, along with Ice alumni Nigel Dawes, Cody Eakin, Sam Reinhart and Jarret Stoll.
“It’s a huge honour. I think it shows that not only have we had team success, but we’ve had individual success,” said Jeff Chynoweth, president and general manager of the Kootenay Ice, Tuesday afternoon. “These players have been recognized for their achievements while playing for our hockey club. It speaks volumes about our program.”
Dawes, 30, skated with the Ice for four seasons (2001-02 to 2004-05), registering 159 goals and 272 points in 245 games.
The speedy winger captained the Ice in his final season before embarking on his professional career.
“Nigel Dawes was the purest goal-scorer we’ve ever had,” Chynoweth said.
Following 212 NHL games, the native of Winnipeg took his talents overseas.
Dawes is in the midst of his fifth season with Barys Astana of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
Though he only spent a short time in Cranbrook with the Ice, Eakin had a lasting impact on the franchise, helping it to a WHL championship and Memorial Cup finals appearance in 2011.
“He made an impression, not only on the organization, but on his teammates,” Chynoweth said of Eakin. “His enthusiasm towards the game was very contagious. He was a premier player.”
Eakin, 24, tallied 18 goals and 44 points in 26 games with the Ice after coming to the club from the Swift Current Broncos in a blockbuster, six-player trade.
The native of Winnipeg has skated in 237 NHL games and signed a lucrative four-year, $15.4-million extension with the Dallas Stars earlier this summer.
Reinhart spent four seasons in Cranbrook (2011-12 to 2014-15), captaining the club in his final two seasons, before graduating as the all-time franchise leader in points (319).
“Sam went about his business quietly and probably had the best hockey IQ of any player we’ve ever had,” Chynoweth said.
The native of North Vancouver was drafted second overall by the Buffalo Sabres at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft following a season in which he laid claim to a number of WHL accolades, including the Brad Hornung Trophy (Most Sportsmanlike Player) and Four Broncos Trophy (Player of the Year).
Reinhart, 19, is expected to graduate to the professional ranks within the Sabres organization this season.
Stoll called Cranbrook home for four season as well, skating in 245 games and registering 286 points. Until Reinhart’s final season, Stoll was the all-time franchise leader in point scoring.
“He did it all for us,” Chynoweth said of Stoll. “He was a great leader on and off the ice.”
The native of Melville, Sask., helped the Ice to its 2002 Memorial Cup championship and has since gone on to a 792-game NHL career, including two Stanley Cup titles with the Los Angeles Kings (2012, 2014).
Heading into 2015-16, the 33-year-old Stoll joined the New York Rangers on a one-year contract.
Allison, 56, spent four seasons (1975-76 to 1978-79) with the Brandon Wheat Kings, tallying 478 points in 242 games. He went on to a 237-game NHL career.
Murdoch, 58, played 144 games with the Kamloops Chiefs and Medicine Hat Tigers from 1973-74 to 1975-76, registering 307 points in 144 games. He went on to a 320-game NHL career.
Niedermayer, 42, is the most decorated of the entire lot, having been named to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The cerebral defenceman played 156 WHL games with the Kamloops Blazers (1989-90 to 1991-92), winning two WHL championships (1990 and 1992) and a Memorial Cup (1992).
Now an assistant coach with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, Niedermayer has also won Olympic gold medals (2002 and 2010), Stanley Cup championships (1995, 2000, 2003, 2007) and countless other accolades.
The WHL’s 50th season begins Thursday, Sept. 24, when the Moose Jaw Warriors host the Regina Pats.
A total of 88 forwards, 27 defencemen and 10 goaltenders were named to the top-125 list, which was compiled by members of the media, individuals demonstrating long-standing contributions to the league, as well as WHL staff.
The Kootenay Ice open the 2015-16 WHL season Friday, Sept. 25 (7 p.m.), when the Calgary Hitmen visit Cranbrook.