February 11, 2009
Holick has Ice in contention
By SCOTT FISHER, SUN MEDIA
Fans in Hockeytown, USA, have been spoiled.
Playoff appearances in Detroit are not celebrated. They're expected.
The situation is much the same in Cranbrook, B.C., where the Ice are post-season regulars.
They still have a ways to go to catch the Red Wings streak of 17 straight -- and counting -- playoff appearances.
But Kootenay is looking to lock up its 11th consecutive WHL playoff berth this spring -- second only to the Calgary Hitmen's active streak, which sits at a dozen years.
First-year head coach Mark Holick is well aware of the pressure involved in ensuring the streak doesn't come to an end on his watch.
"It gets mentioned once or twice to the coaches," Holick said with a chuckle.
"All kidding aside, sooner or later, it'll probably end. But we want to make the playoffs.
"That's why you play the games in the regular season, to get the best seed possible. We've done our share since the deadline, scratching out points and getting opportunities."
At 26-22-2-6, the Ice sit seventh in the WHL's Eastern Conference.
They have a six-point cushion over the Prince Albert Raiders and the Edmonton Oil Kings, who are battling with the Regina Pats for the final playoff berth.
And they've done it recently without starting goaltender Nathan Lieuwen, who is out with post-concussion syndrome.
Patrolling the bench of one of the WHL's most successful franchises is a high-risk/high-reward occupation.
Failure won't be accepted. Success, however, will be rewarded.
The last two Ice coaches have secured professional jobs.
Ryan McGill is guiding the Calgary Flames' AHL affiliate in Quad City, and Cory Clouston, of course, is now the head honcho with the Ottawa Senators.
"That was a huge factor," Holick said of his decision to take the job in Cranbrook. "You want your first job in the Western Hockey League to be in a good situation.
"Jeff called, and I was fortunate enough to be chosen. My predeccesors -- Cory and Gilly -- have done a tremendous job and are cutting a path for guys in our league, not just Kootenay.
"You have (Curtis) Hunts (Hunt) in Binghampton, so guys from our league are doing well. It's only a matter of time before more guys move up."
Clouston put up a record of 209-114-37 during his five seasons with the Ice.
His sparkling .632 winning percentage is fourth best in WHL history among coaches with five or more seasons behind the bench.
Big shoes to fill, but Holick is up for the challenge.
"Working for the Chynoweth family has been a great experience for me," he said of the owners. "Hopefully, we can continue on. With this group, it's going to take a lot of teaching and preparation."
GM Jeff Chynoweth made a risky deal at the trade deadline last month when he shipped Calgary Flames prospect John Negrin and sniper Michael Stickland to the Swift Current Broncos.
It's a deal that could pay big dividends down the road -- if d-man James Martin and forward Christian Magnus continue to develop -- but it took two big pieces out of the Ice lineup.
"We're still fighting for a spot," Holick said. "Our mandate didn't change. We want to be above .500 and make the playoffs.
"We knew John would probably be turning pro next year, and Swifty wanted to make something happen with Michael.
"We know we have enough leadership in that room with guys like (Andrew) Bailey, (Ian) Barteaux, (Kevin) King, (Tylan) Stephens, Eric Frere. They've done a whale of a job, and that's why we hung onto those guys.
"There was interest in Bails and Barteaux. But if we completely sold out, maybe we're not doing what we're doing.
"It was a good decision by Jeff to hang onto those guys."
Chynoweth also picked up second- and fourth-round bantam draft picks along with Magnus, who turns 17 next month, and Martin, 17.
"That first practice, I knew we were going to have something good," Martin said.