Ice-cold rivalry

SCOTT FISHER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:59 AM ET

The rivalry is back, although some would say it never left.

There was a time in the late 1990s when the Kootenay Ice was Public Enemy No. 1 around these parts.

The rivalry with the Calgary Hitmen will be rekindled when Kootenay hosts Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final Friday (7 p.m., The Fan 960).

Calgary's Junior Hockey Junkies still chant "Kootenay sucks" during Hitmen games, regardless of which team is providing the opposition.

Veteran winger Brodie Dupont was puzzled by the ritual.

"I could never figure that out for the longest time," Dupont says.

"I would be like, 'We're playing Medicine Hat, why are you chanting Kootenay sucks?'

"Finally someone informed me about the old rivalry they used to have and it all came together and made sense."

The Cranbrook Crew went head-to-head with the Calgary Hitmen in the 1999 and 2000 playoffs.

The Hitmen won the first series in seven games and lost the Memorial Cup final in overtime to Ottawa.

The Ice emerged victorious in 2000 and also went to the Mem Cup, won by Rimouski.

Kootenay switched to the Western Conference at the start of the 2001-02 season but the rivalry never completely fizzled out.

The WHL schedule maintained a heavy slate of games between the rivals during the five years the teams spent in separate conferences.

When the Ice rejoined the Central Division this season, the old foes picked up where they left off.

"I heard some stories about when they used to meet," Dupont says. "It's exciting to be rekindling this old flame. I think the fans are excited for it, too. It should be a hopping place for our home games."

The Ice finished the season with 104 points, 19 clear of the third-place Hitmen.

The heavily-favoured Ice also won six of the eight regular-season matchups.

Dupont knows the odds are stacked against his squad.

"Last year, we were pretty heavy favourites against Lethbridge and they showed us it doesn't matter," he says. "They put up a good fight.

"My first year, we were underdogs against Lethbridge.

"I like the no-pressure situation. It's easier to play when no one is expecting much from you. We have to go out there and prove everyone wrong."

Calgary was outscored 32-24 in the eight games this season but was out-classed only once, an 8-4 loss.

Five of the tilts were decided by a single goal with one going to OT.

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HEATED HISTORY

PAST PLAYOFF MEETINGS

1998-99 Eastern Conference quarter-final

Calgary 4 Kootenay 3

1999-2000 Eastern Conference final

Kootenay 4 Calgary 1

(Both teams won WHL championship).


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