One of the most successful Kootenay Ice alumni will be returning to celebrate the 2000 and 2002 championship teams in a few weeks after recently winning professional hockey's most desired honour.
Jarret Stoll, who is coming off a Stanley Cup championship with the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, is returning to Cranbrook to celebrate the early success of the Kootenay Ice at a Hot Stove Dinner and Golf tournament to raise money for the club's education fund.
Stoll played four years in the WHL with the Kootenay Ice, debuting with the team when it had its inaugural season in Cranbrook in 1998. Over his career, Stoll won a league championship in 2000 and 2002 and made two trips to the CHL's Memorial Cup tournament, winning junior hockey's most prized trophy the second time around.
After 10 years of professional hockey, Stoll can now add a Stanley Cup championship to his list of accomplishments, as his team, the L.A. Kings, made a magical run through the NHL post-season to earn the franchise's first title.
It's been three weeks since the Kings beat the Devils 6-1 in Game Six to capture Lord Stanley's Cup, and most of the players have dispersed back to their hometowns to celebrate with family and friends, according to Stoll.
"You look back on the season in the last couple months, the last couple weeks and it's been a bit of a whirlwind, but it was definitely a good time and something I'll remember forever," Stoll said in a phone interview from Saskatchewan, where he is currently visiting family.
Despite limping in to the playoffs as the eighth seed of the Western Conference, Stoll said his team didn't think of themselves as an eighth-place team.
Stoll had already been through the experience of coming into the post-season in eighth place with the Edmonton Oilers in 2006, which ended with an agonizing loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup final.
"I think, in the future, you're going to see a lot of lower seeds go deeper in the playoffs because every team is so good and the parity in the league is so good and competitive," said Stoll.
The Kings crushed the NHL's top team in the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, handily beating them in five games as the former Stanley Cup finalists couldn't find an answer for the physical play of Dustin Brown or solve the riddle of Kings netminder Jonathon Quick.
Stoll himself dispatched Canucks in Game Five, scoring the overtime winner against Cory Schneider to propel the Kings into the second round against the St. Louis Blues.
"We knew we could beat them, we had all areas of our game at that point going well and then confidence took over," said Stoll.
"It just snowballed from there. We kept playing well and [coach] Darryl Sutter made sure we were in the right mindset-the right focus-to stay in that place and keep playing well and winning games.
"We just found ways to win games."
The Kings advanced through the Blues, sweeping them in four games and dispatched the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference final for the Kings' second shot at Lord Stanley in 45 years.
The Kings built up a commanding 3-0 series lead in the final against the New Jersey Devils, but their opponents fought back to win the next two games to force Game Six.
However, the Kings weren't going to be denied and scored three goals on a five-minute major penalty to end the final game with a 6-1 victory and a Stanley Cup celebration on home ice in Los Angeles.
It was a year of transition for the Kings as the club traded for Mike Richards in the previous off-season and sent stalwart defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round draft pick to Columbus for right-winger Jeff Carter before the February trade deadline.
But one of the biggest club moves was replacing head coach Terry Murray with Darryl Sutter midway through the season in December.
Stoll was quick to point out that the team wasn't unfocused or unprepared before Sutter took over the reins, but noted his presence was a breath of fresh air.
"He's a hard guy, a black-and-white kind of guy, but he's honest and you respect a guy like that, you want to play hard for a guy like that," Stoll said. "And you can tell he cares. He cares about every guy on that team like his own son."
Stoll has been with the Kings for the past four years and was rewarded with a three-year, $9.75 million contract a few days ago that will extend his professional career in the City of Angels.
He began his NHL career in Edmonton with the Oilers in 2003 and played four years there before he was traded, along with teammate Matt Greene, for Lubomir Visnovsky in 2008.
Stoll went through the NHL draft twice; the first time in 2000, where the Flames selected him 46th overall but never signed him and a second time in 2002, getting picked 36th overall by the Oilers.
However, before his career in the professional world of hockey, Stoll could be seen ripping through the neutral zone at the old Cranbrook Memorial Arena and later, the Rec Plex, while playing major-junior hockey for the Kootenay Ice.
"It was great times, playing hockey there," Stoll said. "I'll never forget those times and all my friends that I made there. I still keep in touch with some of them and it's going to be great to see a bunch of them coming up here in July."
Stoll was a member of both the 2000 and 2002 WHL championship-winning teams and played in both subsequent Memorial Cup tournaments.
In 237 regular season games over his junior career, Stoll tallied 281 points and had the honour of representing Canada twice at the World Junior Hockey Championships.
A few of the players on the 2002 roster knew the bitter taste of defeat from the experience at the 2000 Memorial Cup, as the Ice went winless in three games.
However, the team two years later wasn't going to be denied, said Stoll.
"We had the experience, we had older guys on the team that had gone deep in the playoffs before, we had a great goaltender in BJ Boxma, who was steady and solid for us and made the key saves when he had to," Stoll said.
"We had some great skill-Duncan Milroy, Marek Svatos and Colin Sinclair. On the back end we had Craig Weller, Gerard Dicaire-guys like that.
"You know, everybody chipped in."
Indeed, everyone did chip in, as the Ice survived a scare in the first round of the 2002 WHL playoffs, beating the Prince George Cougars in seven games. Kootenay then swept the Seattle Thunderbirds and downed the Kelowna Rockets to ensure a berth in the league final against the Red Deer Rebels.
The two teams fought each other to a 2-2 series tie, but the Ice won two consecutive games to capture its second league championship in three years.
Kootenay continued to be successful in the ensuing Memorial Cup tournament, beating the OHL's Erie Otters and the host Guelph Storm.
The Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL were the only team to beat the Ice in round robin, but Kootenay got its revenge in the tournament final with a 6-1 win to capture the Memorial Cup.
Stoll will be looking forward to reliving some of those memories in two weeks as members from those two championship teams converge on Cranbrook to celebrate their titles with the community and raise money for the Kootenay Ice Education Fund.
While Stoll was lucky enough and skilled enough to go pro, he said the education fund is a huge help for WHL alumni who chose to go to school instead of pursuing a professional career.
"Most of the guys did benefit from the education fund and what it provides," Stoll said. "It's a great program for guys to further their education, still play hockey, go to a major university and play for a great team, try to win championships at the college level and get their schooling and tuition paid for.
"That sounds pretty good to me if you're starting to go on to the college route. It's a great deal and a great opportunity for kids to keep going after they're done their junior career."
The Hot Stove Dinner is a new event this year that features an evening with the players at the Prestige Inn on July 12. Attendees can participate in an open Q&A with the players and get a chance to bid for some prizes and memorabilia in auctions. The Golf Tournament is the next day at the Cranbrook Golf Club, which includes an afternoon of golf and an evening dinner.
Tickets for both events can be purchased by contacting the Kootenay Ice office at 250-417-0322.