*This is an article I wrote for the Cranbrook Townsman just prior to the 2016-17 WHL season.*
Last season, the Kootenay Ice struggled to find the success that this town is used to seeing from their WHL team. With league and franchise lows in both wins and goals scored, the team needs to come back to life. To regain their competitive edge, they can no longer just be regular old hockey players — they’ll need to be superheroes. Sports Editor Brad McLeod takes a look at who’s got what it takes.
Superman: Zak Zborosky
If the Ice want to be a strong contender in the WHL this year, Zborosky’d better get his cape on. Last season he was the team’s point leader and now that he’s entering his fourth and final season with Kootenay, there will be substantial pressure for him to be consistently ‘super’ again this year. Although he missed 14 games due to injury last year, he was their ‘Man of Steel’ in 2014-15, when he played all 72. If he can do that again, it should help their consistency up front. Zborosky fought his way into the big city this summer, earning a spot at the NHL’s New York Rangers prospect camp and tournament, and now that he’s back in Smallville, the team needs him to lead the way.
Batman: Payton Lee
Kootenay’s man behind the mask will need to provide some heroics this season for the Ice to stand a fighting chance against their opposition. A new acquisition for the team this year, Lee needs his athleticism and technical prowess to shine as he returns to his own personal Gotham – Cranbrook, the community he grew up in. A big and highly intelligent goalie, who has a lot of experience in some of the darkest areas of the league (he played on the 21-win Vancouver Giants in 2013), Lee may be the hero the Ice deserve and the one they need right now.
Robin: Declan Hobbs
Although Lee will be getting the start in the Ice’s opening game, Hobbs has been impressing the coaching staff as of late and the team could very well have a dynamic duo between the pipes.
Hobbs is a couple of years younger than Lee, and a couple pounds lighter, but the young ward needs to prove that he can give the Ice a chance every time he gets the start. If Hobbs and Lee can push each other for the starting position it could help the Ice’s goaltending, as having a highly skilled sidekick is always a good idea.
The Wonder Twins: Keenan and Kaeden Taphorn
For those who aren’t familiar with the 1970s Hanna-Barbera cartoon, “The Super Friends”, The Wonder Twins are a sibling pair of extraterrestrial superhero twins. One has the power to transform into any form of water and the other can turn into any animal. If the Ice want to be a super team, they need the Taphorn twins to tap into their own unique power to turn any puck into a bucket of goals. The rookie brothers have the potential to do precisely that, just like they did in 2014-15 during their final year of Bantam hockey with the Yorkton Terriers, where they combined for 71 goals in just 31 games. It will help the Ice if they can activate their twin powers this season.
The Flash: Cale Fleury
With the departure of the now 21-year old Tanner Lishchynsky on the backend, Cale Fleury may very well have to be superhuman to keep opponents from lighting up the scoreboard. Speed will be a big factor to his success, as his ability to quickly rush the puck, suddenly appear for a big hit and fire a mach 12 slapshot could certainly help lead the Ice to victory.There are many who think Fleury is up to the task. He’s already been listed in the official 2016-17 Central Scouting’s Futures List and was listed by TSN analyst Craig Button as a “Player to Watch”. If he can start off the year like a bolt of lightning, watch out!
Aquaman: Matt Alfaro
At 20 years old and entering his fourth season with the Ice, Alfaro has developed into quite possibly the team’s slipperiest player. If he can continue to find open space and slide past defenders with the ease he did in some games last season, not only will he have an impressive final WHL season, but he’ll help rack up team wins. The way Aquaman takes to the water, Alfaro will have to take to the Ice. Being able to telepathically communicate with his teammates wouldn’t hurt either.