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Kootenay Ice's Cody Eakin, right, takes a push from Calgary Hitmen's Alex Roach during first period WHL hockey action in Calgary, Alberta on Wednesday, Feb, 2, 2011. (LARRY MACDOUGAL/The Canadian Press)
Kootenay Ice's Cody Eakin, right, takes a push from Calgary Hitmen's Alex Roach during first period WHL hockey action in Calgary, Alberta on Wednesday, Feb, 2, 2011. (LARRY MACDOUGAL/The Canadian Press)

Kootenay run a family affair Add to ...

Every night the Kootenay Ice played at the Cranbrook Recplex, Jeff Chynoweth would look to the far end of the arena and stare into the face of his late father.

It would be there on a banner smiling back at him, next to the words "Hockey Hall of Fame." And every night he looked to his dad, the son would think of all the good times they shared and how proud Ed would be of the team he founded.

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"He would have loved this," Jeff Chynoweth said of Kootenay's remarkable run to the 2011 MasterCard Memorial Cup. "We joke we have someone smiling down on us every night."

Earning a shot at Canada's major junior hockey title has been nice for the Ice. But defeating the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League championship series, seeing Kootenay captain Brayden McNabb handing the Ed Chynoweth Cup to general manager Jeff Chynoweth, was a pluck of the heartstrings.

Ed Chynoweth was the WHL's first president, a former Canadian Hockey League president and the man responsible for taking the game to new heights. He formed the Edmonton Ice in 1996 before moving them to Cranbrook, B.C., in 1998. With son Jeff still learning the business, Chynoweth made the WHL's second smallest market a hotbed of on-ice success (13 consecutive playoff-bound seasons and counting) and ultimately Memorial Cup champions in 2002.

Now it's the son's turn to make good for the father who died of cancer in 2008 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame a year later. And Kootenay's season, in many ways, is the result of Jeff Chynoweth's handiwork.

It was his choice to hire Kris Knoblauch and make him a rookie head coach. It was his call to acquire forward Cody Eakin from the Swift Current Broncos in a mind-blowing, eight-for-one swap. It was a deal that helped put the Ice in position to roll their regular-season momentum straight into the playoffs.

"You turn over so many players from the previous year in major junior hockey," Chynoweth said. "But we had 18, 19 guys returning. We knew we had a good core group coming back. So we made the decision if we were competitive enough and needed to look at acquiring a top forward or defenceman to make us a little bit better, we'd look at it."

They did and they acted, giving up a roster player, four prospects plus a first and a second-round pick in the 2011 WHL bantam draft and a third-round pick in 2012. It was a daring move bolstered by the fact Kootenay possessed a wealth of bantam draft picks.

It helped, too, that the Chynoweth family was deeply involved in the trade. Eakin had played for Dean Chynoweth in Swift Current. Now an assistant with the New York Islanders, Dean recommended Eakin as Jeff Chynoweth kept thinking of his dad.

"He would have said, 'Okay, is this the right guy? Why?' He would have made sure we did our homework," Chynoweth said. "My brother said Eakin's level of compete was second to none. He'd also played in a small market and [Kootenay defenceman]James Martin is his best friend. He was a good fit for us."

There was another good fit, goaltender Nathan Lieuwen. He played his first game with Kootenay at 16, only to suffer a serious concussion as a passenger in a roll-over car accident. He came back a year later and suffered a second concussion after, "I rang my head off a goal post."

The 2010-11 WHL season was dubbed Lieuwen's make-or-break year and he responded by winning 33 games. He then shrugged off a bad playoff opener against the Moose Jaw Warriors to become the reliable netminder he knew he could be.

"I was so nervous for that [Moose Jaw]game," Lieuwen said. "I knew I had to be good and I tried so hard. Once we got going, I was able to settle down and get my confidence."

When Lieuwen got his, so did his teammates. They won 15 of their next 16 playoff games and, after ousting Portland, were quick to reward their GM by making sure he got his hands on the Chynoweth Cup.

"Jeff has stuck with a lot of us," Lieuwen said. "He's pushed and challenged us. To see him holding the Cup was a special moment."

To be holding it was even better and something the son has allowed himself to reflect on.

"My dad made everyone feel valued," Jeff Chynoweth said. "He would greet people coming into the building. He'd shake hands. He treated everyone with respect. … He was larger than life."

So is his team as it heads to the Memorial Cup.

KOOTENAY ICE

Coach: Kris Knoblauch.

Top players: Matt Fraser, 19 playoff games, 17 goals, 10 assists, 27 points; Max Reinhart, 19 playoff games, 15-12-27; Cody Eakin, 19 playoff games, 11-16-27; goaltender Nathan Lieuwen, 16-2-1, 2.24 GAA, .923 save percentage, three shutouts.

Road to the MasterCard Memorial Cup: defeated Moose Jaw Warriors 4-2, defeated Saskatoon Blades 4-0, defeated Medicine Hat Tigers 4-0, defeated Portland Winterhawks 4-1.

WHL championships: 2000, 2002, 2011.

Memorial Cup championships: 2002.

Follow on Twitter: @AllanMaki

 

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