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Ice GM reflects on WHL season
The dressing room is quiet at Western Financial Place after a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Medicine Hat Tigers ended the playoff run of the Kootenay Ice.
Players have wrapped up exit meetings with coaches and management, and have headed back to their respective hometowns across Western Canada.
Focus has now shifted to offseason details like season ticket renewals and the upcoming WHL Bantam Draft, which goes down on Thursday in Calgary.
As for the 2013/14 edition of the Kootenay Ice, the season ended in a tough fashion after surrendering a 3-1 series lead to the Tabbies.
"Eventually, we just ran out of gas, and give credit to the Medicine Hat Tigers, they came back from a 3-1 series deficit," said Jeff Chynoweth, general manager for the Kootenay Ice. "Usually the best team wins the series in a seven-game series."
Though it was a tough exit from the post-season, the Ice came out on top of their first round matchup, upsetting the Calgary Hitmen as the lower seed in six games.
The second half of the season was quite the turnaround from the start, as the team was plagued by inconsistent results, following a pattern of a win and a loss throughout the first four months.
It wasn't until January that the team strung together four wins in a row, also hitting a run of 16 wins out of 19 games.
"I think the first half of the season was very frustrating for all of us, including the players and the management, but I think after the trade deadline, we were one of the better teams in the Western Hockey League down the stretch," said Chynoweth.
While injuries are fact of life in hockey, the Ice had to deal with a couple costly ones.
Defenceman Tanner Faith played a grand total of 10 games this year after injuring his shoulder early in the season and once again upon his return to the lineup. He elected for surgery in early January, which required a three to five-month recovery.
Ryan Chynoweth, who added physicality and grit to the forward corps, only dressed for 42 games, missing the end of the season and playoffs with an upper-body injury.
The Ice also lost valuable experience with late-season and playoff injuries to defencemen Landon Cross and Tyler King.
Then, of course, there was the meningitis incident with Tim Bozon.
"The Bozon thing was something that you don't really plan on dealing with. It's a situation where it's unfortunate for everybody," said Chynoweth.
"Hockey isn't the be all and end all when you go through something like that."
Bozon, who was acquired from the Kamloops Blazers along with Cross, spent a month in hospital battling meningitis during a road trip into Saskatchewan. Despite the severity of the case, which required doctors to put him in a medically induced coma for 13 days, Bozon was able to pull through and was discharged a month after he was admitted.
Though his hockey career is currently on hold, it sounds like his rehabilitation is going well back home in France, according to a recent social media update from his Twitter account.
"Injuries are a part of the game and every team goes with it. It's usually a battle of attrition as you go through the process," said Chynoweth. "I think, from our end, I don't think we iced a full lineup from the beginning of March on right through to the playoffs."
"…It eventually catches up to you, but that's not an excuse. That's not an excuse why we lost. I'm just saying you can do it for a period of time, just not an extended period of time."
Despite injuries, the team found some consistency in the second half of the year, and put up a good fight in the second round of the post-season, with some definite positives to look forward for next season.
"That's the beauty of junior hockey, you see the evolution of a player. They come in at 16 [years old], young boys and they leave at 20 as young men," said Chynoweth. "I think that's what you want and not just hockey players but good ambassadors on and off the ice.
"…From my end, personally, I just see the development of all the players, from the start when we got them to the way they finished the year—they've all improved in some part of their game and that's all you can ask for."