Keith Hershmiller/WHL

2021 Season Recap: Winnipeg ICE do a lot of winning in the bubble

 

A season unlike any other for the Winnipeg ICE is over.

The ICE had a successful season in the East Division bubble, showing themselves as one of the best teams in the WHL while taking advantage of the valuable development time the shortened season afforded them.

SEASON RECAP

Record: 18-5-1, 37 points (second in East Division)

Goal Differential: +30 (second in East Division)

Scoring Leader: Peyton Krebs, 43 points (first in WHL)

Goals Leader: Connor McClennon, 14 goals (tied for second in WHL)

Assists Leader: Krebs, 30 assists (first in WHL)

GAA Leader: Gage Alexander, 2.23 GAA (seventh in WHL, first in East Division)

Save Percentage Leader: Gage Alexander, .917 SP (eighth in WHL, first in East Division)

Power Play: 31.5% (third in WHL, second in East Division)

Penalty Kill: 76.7% (13th in WHL, fourth in East Division)

THE STORY

The Winnipeg ICE had a wonderful 2021 season – April 27, 2021 (Keith Hershmiller)

The WHL managed to have all their East Division teams play 24 games without a single COVID case in the Subway hub in Regina. Completing the season as cleanly as they did is impressive, showing the WHL’s commitment to their mission no matter the circumstances.

The Winnipeg ICE made everything they could in the circumstances, using their fast possession-based style to scorch the East Division for six weeks. Finishing near the top in almost every stat, frustrating opponents with their speed and smarts, and continuing to develop for the future. The Winnipeg ICE did it all this year.

Everyone Winnipeg played gave them everything they needed, plus a little extra. From Gage Alexander evolving into the goalie of the future to Conor Geekie’s long-anticipated arrival, the ICE looks to be entering a wide-open championship window.

“[Winnipeg] did a whole lot of things in net, on defense, and upfront that will set them up very well going forward,” said ICE broadcaster Mitch Peacock.

Head Coach James Patrick and his staff deserve a lot of credit, as does general manager Matt Cockell and his team. The team has drafted, developed, and reinforced a quality core with a winning identity. That identity and character meant it’s not surprising Winnipeg squeezed every drop of development they could out of the bubble.

“I don’t think it could have gone a whole lot better,” Peacock said.

STUCK IN SECOND

The ICE nearly managed to power their way into first place in the home stretch. But they fell one point short. Instead, their archrivals, the Brandon Wheat Kings, get the glory and the Subway Cup.

It doesn’t take long to figure out why the ICE ended up behind the Wheat Kings – Brandon beat Winnipeg in all four meetings this season. All the games were close affairs, as expected between these bitter enemies. Unfortunately, the ICE couldn’t flip one in their favour.

Even more unfortunate, there’s no chance for vengeance this season. With no WHL playoffs and no Memorial Cup, the Winnipeg ICE will have to wait for next season to get revenge.

BITTERSWEET GOODBYE

Peyton Krebs is moving on to the big leagues (Photo credit – Zachary Peters)

This 24-game season gave the Winnipeg ICE a chance to give Peyton Krebs a proper send-off. After all he has done for the franchise, he’s certainly earned it.

“He is among the best players ever to wear the ICE jersey,” Peacock said.

The former first overall pick from 2016 has come a long way from his days as a Rocky Mountain Raider. Captain for the last three seasons, Krebs rounded himself into an exceptional player and person who helped drive the identity of this team.

His leadership was evident on and off the ice in his final season. On ice, nothing too special, just leading the entire WHL in scoring while collecting at least a point in every game except one. Off ice, he led the way for young rookies like Geekie and Benson, teaching them what it means to be a Winnipeg ICE player.

“He was everything they could have asked for. He set a quality standard for the organization for years to come,” said Peacock.

“I don’t know how you put a value on that.”

Krebs’ value will live on long past the 199 games he played for the ICE. As he moves on with the Henderson Silver Knights, where he’s set for postseason hockey, he’ll continue to be the ICE standard. The standard of mutual respect and high expectations.

On his way out, Krebs took one record with him. Against the Prince Albert Raiders, Krebs’ assist on Prosofsky’s game-winner gave him the franchise’s longest point streak in history, surpassing Mike Comrie’s 20-year-old record. Another assist in the season finale pushed his streak to 23 games. It’s a well-earned milestone for a man who helped build this team into what it is now.

ALSO MOVING ON…

Three 20-year-olds also finished their major junior journeys’ this season:

  • Jackson Leppard finished a five-year career started back in 2015 as the eighth overall pick for the Prince George Cougars.
  • Anderson Macdonald finished his career with Winnipeg after four seasons in the QMJHL.
  • Carl Stankowski won five more starts for the ICE, finishing off a career that included leading the Seattle Thunderbirds to their 2017 title.

NEXT STEP

There’s a lot to do before next season – April 6, 2021 (Keith Hershmiller/WHL)

With the season over, the focus now turns to next year. In a hopefully normal season next year, the Winnipeg ICE project to be one of the top contenders. However, there are still some housekeeping items to dust up first.

First up, a tough decision on the team’s over-agers. Winnipeg has four 20-year-old players: Nolan Orzeck, Mike Ladyman, Cole Muir, and Jakin Smallwood. One of them won’t be allowed to come back with Winnipeg. Cockell will have to see if he can make a trade or just release one of them. All of them are quality WHLers, but the ICE can’t keep them all.

Once that choice is made, the ICE will have to fill roster holes just like any other year. There’s certainly no replacing Krebs, but the play of rookies like Geekie and Benson is encouraging. Gage Alexander was the East Division’s best netminder this season, and with Daniel Hauser backing him up, the ICE have a solid tandem. Also, the return of Carson Lambos, who was limited to two games this season because of injury, will be essential for the backend.

Along with both the regular WHL Draft and the CHL Import Draft, Cockell will be a busy man this offseason.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Hopefully, there will never be another season like this again. Fans cheering on their teams with everyone dreaming of a Memorial Cup will be a sign the world is truly normal again. This year though, the Winnipeg ICE didn’t allow COVID to stop their march. They played their game and proudly represented Manitoba’s capital. It would be hard to ask for anything else.

“In a season unlike any other, they got 24 games in, and they were able to come away with a good feeling,” said Peacock.

It certainly was a unique season for the Winnipeg ICE, one no one in the organization will ever forget.

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