They showed up for a funeral at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook on Sunday afternoon. But, in the end, it was a celebration of life and of what used to be, of three WHL championships and the Memorial Cup title that put the city in hockey’s spotlight in 2002.
The Kootenay Ice played its final game in Cranbrook on Sunday, beating the Red Deer Rebels, 5-4, and there were more than 2,600 fans in the pews to witness it.
The franchise had been in Cranbrook for 21 seasons, most of them full of smiles, chuckles and success.
This season, however, has been more heartbreak than anything else. It began with rumours and speculation, with fans in a state of denial. That all ended in January when Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, and Ice owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell, who is the president and general manager, admitted that, yes, the Ice would be moving to Winnipeg upon the conclusion of this season.
That day came on Sunday.
Here are some notes from a few fans who were in the arena, not only for the final game, but for a lot of games over the team’s time in the city:
From one fan . . .
“What a game and what a finish for the Kootenay Ice . . . An emotional game in many respects — 2,654 in attendance — for one of the largest walk-up attended games. Fans were lined up at the ticket window until halfway through the first period. . . .These fans came to watch the last game and were supportive of the Ice the whole game. The Rebels, with four of their key players left at home, capitalized on Ice penalties — including the captain, Peyton Krebs, taking a major for boarding early in the first and being ejected from the game (deservedly so, I must add) — and then other penalties to the Ice giving the Rebels many chances.
“It was a hard-fought game, back and forth, with the Ice scoring late in the third, breaking a tie and winning, 5-4.
“Fans cheered throughout, and all were on their feet for the last three minutes of the game, the Rebels having pulled their goalie . . . the Ice being called for a penalty with 10 seconds left . . . the referees adding 4.5 seconds to the clock and then the clock goes for an additional 27 seconds instead of just 14.5 seconds until a scrum at the end resulted in the whistle finally being blown and the referees called the game as ended and giving the Ice the win. . . .
“The crowd stayed around and watched a long stick salute by the Ice players, who came up from the dressing room to sign autographs and talk to fans, to talk about how they are going to miss Cranbrook, their billet families, the weather and the fans.
“The crowd remained to meet with the players . . . probably close to 50 per cent stayed. There were many fans in tears uttering less flattering comments about the owners and noting they should have been upfront with us when they arrived.”
Here’s how another fan viewed it all . . .
“There was one group of season-ticket holders, who sit below the CIBC signs. They watched kids juggle signs reading ‘GO ICE GO.’ After the kids were done, the adults stood up with individual signs that read ‘GONE ICE GONE.’ . . .
“Cam Hausinger, who was traded to Red Deer along with Brett Davis earlier in the season, came upstairs after the game and before our players got there to say hi to everyone and sign autographs. He said he misses everyone in Cranbrook. . . .
“There were tears among the fans and the hosts, and talk of getting the same seats when we hopefully get another hockey team in the arena. . . . We had four young hockey players from the university team in Castlegar (the BCIHL’s Selkirk Saints) sitting beside us who there specifically checking everything out. . . .
“As the game ended most people never moved from the stands as if they couldn’t bring themselves to believe it was all over. . . .
“As I was getting autographs I couldn’t help but admire these young men who took the time to sign everything from hockey pucks, to hats, to shirts to programs. Peyton Krebs, who didn’t play the whole game, stood there having his picture taken, talking to even the smallest little one and thanking all the people for supporting the team. . . .
“It was a very class act by the whole team with the exception of Matt Cockell, who never left the box. Some of the stuff that happened over the last couple of games . . . with the awards ceremony, most seasons they set up a table on ice and did the presentations there. This time, they didn’t do that . . . just had people who were doing the presentations standing in the alleyway by the bench. . . .
“On Sunday, they had teachers and other people, who have contributed to helping the players, on the ice for a round of applause before the game. Also we had two players who were finishing as 20-year-olds, and the coach, James Patrick, gave them their gifts, not the GM or Mr. Fettes. Not that Mr. Fettes has put in an appearance in Cranbrook since the media circus began.”
From another fan:
“The second and third stars were the two 20-year-olds. As a final slap in the face, the first star was the Kootenay Ice fans, which brought about an audible groan from the crowd. Nuff said!”