There are four teams left playing in the Canadian Hockey League but one of them really could claim the moniker of "Canada's team". Believe it or not, in this day and age with the European import draft, the growth of hockey in the United States and the migration of that talent up North, there is a team that has bucked the trends on their way to success. The Kootenay Ice are 100% Canadian made.
This is not meant as a fist-pumping rant of nationalism but rather a explanation of how the Ice have built their team this year. One can assume that Kootenay's decision last year not to partake in the CHL Import draft had something to do with the perceived disadvantage that small market CHL clubs have in landing high caliber players.
The same argument might be applied to the reasoning behind there being no Americans on the roster as well.
But is that accurate?
Tuesday night we spoke with General Manager Jeff Chynoweth on our annual Memorial Cup Preview Show and posed the question to him.
"It's just luck of the draw," Chynoweth said, "We've participated for many years in the CHL import draft and have had some great import players. We just felt that with the number of players that were returning to our roster that had been here for a couple of years, and where we were drafting in the Import Draft, we weren't going to get access to a top end guy."
"That doesn't mean that next year we aren't going to participate in the [Import] Draft," he added, "From our end it wasn't as much by design as much as there were no players there that we wanted. If I'm going to bring a player over I don't think having him playing on my fourth line is worth the money or the time involved in getting him over here."
That answer is a slightly more diplomatic one than head coach Kris Knoblauch gave us about a month ago when we asked him if it was done by design.
"A little bit," the coach began, "We didn't participate in the European draft this past year just because... the last few years we got some players from Europe that played on our team but we expected them to contribute more. We felt that with so many veterans coming back, 18 at the beginning of the year, and we had some prospects that we felt very highly of... we felt that getting just an average European player wouldn't have improved our team that much."
It's certainly hard to argue with the results as the Ice are the hottest team in the country having won 15 of their last 16 games going back to the first round of the WHL playoffs. Oddly enough, Kootenay's longest series was the opening round against Moose Jaw; a 6-game affair that Kootenay actually trailed in after three games.
The last American on the team was netminder Todd Matthews who actually played 3 games for the Ice this season. He finished the year with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL.
The most recent member of the team who came from Europe was Dominik Pacovsky, a Czech forward who had 22 and 26 points his two seasons with the Ice (2008-09 and 2009-10). Ales Frieb appeared in just 5 WHL games back in the 2008-09 season.
The Memorial Cup gets underway on Friday night but Kootenay's first action is a day later, against the OHL Champion Owen Sound Attack. All games can be seen on Rogers Sportsnet with Peter Loubardias and Sam Cosentino behind the mics.
(Photo: Bryan Heim / WHL.ca)