The Kootenay ICE won their final game in Cranbrook as fans and supporters bid farewell to the long-running WHL franchise following a 5-4 win over the Red Deer Rebels on Sunday.
On an emotional afternoon and evening for Cranbrook and the Kootenay ICE players, the team gave the community a fitting finale with a 5-4 comeback win that included some second period magic.
Entering the finale, Matt Cockell said they wanted the community to have the chance to say their final goodbyes following their announcement earlier in the year that they would be relocating the team to Winnipeg.
“Everybody recognizes it’s been a tremendous history here in Cranbrook,” said the Kootenay ICE President and General Manager. “When we made the announcement mid-season, which was as early as we could have possibly made the announcement, it was really with the intent to be transparent and fair to the community and allow for the opportunity to have a game like this where the community can come and celebrate 21 years of support and great history and have a chance to be together as a community.”
WATCH: Kootenay ICE Pre-Game Ceremony
A team that has called Cranbrook home since 1998, finished their run in fitting fashion, a thrilling 5-4 win over their Central Division rivals, the Red Deer Rebels.
Playing his final game of Major Junior, Jaeger White got the ICE the early lead, firing the puck glove-side past netminder Byron Fancy 6:48 into the contest. Minutes later the game would take a dramatic turn.
Peyton Krebs would get a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for a hit from behind on Jacob Herauf. Visibly frustrated after the call, Krebs was ejected from the game, cutting short the captain’s final performance at Western Financial Place.
“It’s definitely disappointing getting that call, wasn’t what I wanted for the last game playing in Cranbrook, I wanted to play for my teammates and the fans tonight,” Krebs told MyEastKootenayNow.com. “We wanted to give it our all last game here for these fans and they did a great job of pumping us up.”
On the power play from the Krebs major penalty, the Red Deer Rebels would score back-to-back goals as former ICE stars Cam Hausinger and Brett Davis would both score for the Rebels, closing the first period with a 2-1 lead.
Hausinger would score 16 seconds into the second period to extend Red Deer’s lead, before the Kootenay ICE made a comeback not seen since the likes of ICE legends Jarret Stoll and Sam Reinhart. Facing a 3-1 deficit, the ICE scored three goals in 1:43 to completely turn the tide, taking a commanding 4-3 lead.
Nolan Orzeck, Holden Kodak, and Connor McClennon all scored in the three-goal frenzy.
“It was electric out there, they were super loud for the whole game, even when we got down there they kept us in the game and I think that was a big reason why we kept scoring bang, bang, bang was because they just kept us going,” said McClennon after the contest.
With their 4-3 lead, the Rebels would score late in the period to tie the game 4-4, setting the stage for the final period.
Down to the closing minutes, Kootenay ICE rookie Michael Milne would score the game-winning goal with 5:44 to play on a feed from Jaeger White, setting up for a crazy finish in Cranbrook.
Despite some confusion to end the game and the clock not truly running out, the ICE held on for a historic 5-4 win.
WATCH: Kootenay ICE Closing Minutes
“I thought the fans were incredible,” said James Patrick, Head Coach of the Kootenay ICE after the game. “It felt so nice to be in that building, I know so many people wanted to come for the last game here.
Curtis Meger made 25 saves in his final game in the WHL as the overage netminder closed his career with a win he won’t soon forget.
“I came in here as a Junior A call-up and didn’t know a soul on the team and they welcomed me with open arms and it’s been a fun two and a half months and to end off on a win like that in an electric barn, it was a feeling like I’ve never feeled before, it was truly amazing.”
Jaeger White led the ICE with one goal and one assist in the finale, also his final game in the WHL as an overage player. Knowing the situation and it being the team’s last games in Cranbrook, White reminisced about his time growing up in Medicine Hat and what the fans must be feeling on an emotional evening.
“It’s got to be tough for them but I remember watching some really great Kootenay teams come into Medicine Hat and I even remember seeing some Kootenay fans in the stands for some games,” White told MyEastKootenayNow.com. “I think their support won’t be forgotten by this team and teams before so just thanks for everything.”
“Obviously it’s bittersweet because of how much this team has meant to this city and how much the community has meant to the team,” said James Patrick. “It was like it was scripted to be.”
Kootenay ICE captain Peyton Krebs offered his thanks to the Cranbrook fans after the game, finding it hard to say goodbye to a community he’s called home since being drafted first overall by the team in 2016.
“Cranbrook’s been amazing to me, I couldn’t say enough good things, back when I was 15 I got accepted into this city really well. I think good things, the fans been amazing to me, I couldn’t say enough good things about the Spring family, they welcomed me into their home with open arms, it’s going to be tough saying bye to them for sure.”
“Thank you for everything,” Krebs said of the Kootenay ICE fans. “You guys have gone through a lot of ups and downs in these past four years but I just want to make sure that everyone has their head held high and know that they did their part and we appreciate everything they did, I know we’re leaving but they’ll always be in my mind and my heart.”
The Kootenay ICE may have ended 21 years in Cranbrook on Sunday, but the heart of a team that won three WHL Championships and one Memorial Cup Championship will continue to beat strong for decades to come in a community that will remember and never forget their beloved Kootenay ICE.
1998 – 2019.
BELOW: Game thread from Sunday, March 17, 2019:
The end of an era. The Kootenay ICE play their final game in Cranbrook this afternoon against the Red Deer Rebels. Fans are now just beginning to pour in for the finale. Follow this thread for updates. #WHL #Cranbrook #KTNvsRD pic.twitter.com/VnVRSeCRMb
— Bradley Jones (@bradleyrjay) March 17, 2019