Noah Philp (#15) and the Kootenay Ice open the 2016-17 WHL campaign with a home-and-home series against the Calgary Hitmen.

Noah Philp (#15) and the Kootenay Ice open the 2016-17 WHL campaign with a home-and-home series against the Calgary Hitmen.

Making plans: Kootenay Ice announce 2016-17 schedule

Kootenay Ice set to open 2016-17 with home-and-home series against rival Calgary Hitmen; teddy bear toss slated for Dec. 10 vs. Kelowna

On the eve of the 2016 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, the Western Hockey League made official its itinerary for the 2016-17 season.

The WHL’s schedule was released Monday afternoon, with first puck drop coming Friday, Sept. 23.

The Kootenay Ice open the club’s 19th campaign in the East Kootenay by visiting the Scotiabank Saddledome, taking on the Calgary Hitmen on Sept. 23, before returning to Cranbrook for the team’s home-opener, also against the rival Hitmen, on Saturday, Sept. 24.

Over a 72-game spread, the Ice play 36 home games and 36 away games, as per the usual.

This includes 34 games against Central Division opponents — seven games against each of the Hitmen, Lethbridge Hurricanes, Medicine Hat Tigers and Red Deer Rebels and six games against the Edmonton Oil Kings. The 2015-16 season saw the Ice finish in the basement of the Central Division and entire WHL, going 12-53-6-1.

The Ice will take on East Division opposition four times apiece (twice at home, twice on the road) before playing host to each of the B.C. Division teams. In 2015-16, fans in Cranbrook did not see B.C. Division clubs visit Western Financial Place, while the Ice travelled throughout the province and B.C. Division.

The cross-border rivalry between the Kootenay Ice and Spokane Chiefs will continue to rage on, with five border battles set for the 2016-17 campaign (twice in Cranbrook, three times at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. Additionally, the Ice will visit each of the other four U.S. teams after not doing so in 2015-16.

Other than the Chiefs, WHL fans in Cranbrook will not be entertained by U.S. Division teams (Everett Silvertips, Portland Winterhawks, Seattle Thunderbirds, Tri-City Americans) in 2016-17.

The post-Christmas home-and-home series remains on the schedule for the Kootenay Ice, though the opponent changes in 2016. Whereas the Ice took on the Hitmen in a holiday home-and-home previously, the Lethbridge Hurricanes will visit Cranbrook on Tuesday, Dec. 27, before welcoming the Ice to the Enmax Centre on Wednesday, Dec. 28.

In terms of a weekly breakdown, 25 of 36 (69.4 per cent) Kootenay Ice home games will be played on weekends at Western Financial Place, including 10 on Friday, 11 on Saturday and four on Sunday.

The rest of the home schedule is rounded out with six Tuesday contests (16.7 per cent) and five on Wednesdays (13.9 per cent).

A particularly special annual date on the Kootenay Ice calendar will appear once again in 2016-17. The team’s annual teddy bear toss game is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 10, when the high-powered Kelowna Rockets pay a visit to Cranbrook.

October will feature the most Kootenay Ice home games in any given month this coming season, as the club plays host on eight occasions while only taking to the road for four contests.

The lightest month on the Kootenay Ice itinerary comes in February, with nine outings scheduled, including seven at home and only two on the road.

The team will play three games in three nights on three separate occasions, the first set for Nov. 25 to 27 (at Red Deer; vs. Swift Current; vs. Edmonton).

The season-long road trip for the Kootenay Ice doesn’t come down the pipe until late in the campaign, with a five-game venture scheduled from Wednesday, March 1, through Tuesday, March 7. Over the five-game, seven-day swing, the Ice will visit Edmonton, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Moose Jaw and Medicine Hat.

Ice fans can look forward to a home-heavy February, with seven of nine games being played in Cranbrook, including a season-high 12-day homestand with four games from Feb. 1 to 12. Additionally, the team will enjoy a four-game homestand from Oct. 21 to 30.

Another note on the eastern travel front, the Ice will only make one trek to Brandon, taking on the defending-champion Wheat Kings on back-to-back nights (Jan. 13 and 14). In 2015-16, the Ice made two separate trips to Brandon.

The 792-game WHL regular season concludes Sunday, March 19.

The Kootenay Ice regular season schedule comes to a close with in a home-and-home with the Hitmen on Friday, March 17 (at Western Financial Place) and Saturday, March 19 (at Scotiabank Saddledome).

All Kootenay Ice home games at Western Financial Place will get underway at 7 p.m., with the exception of Sunday games beginning at 4 p.m. The lone outlier comes Sunday, Oct. 30, when the Ice welcome the Brandon Wheat Kings for a 2 p.m. matinee.

The 2017 WHL Playoffs and the race for the Ed Chynoweth Cup will open Friday, March 24.

In addition to the regular season slate, the WHL announced Prince George and Edmonton as host cities for the league’s two 2016 CHL Canada/Russia Series in November. Team WHL will take on the Russian National Junior Team in Prince George on Monday, Nov. 7, with the rematch set for Tuesday, Nov. 8, in Edmonton.

Next on the major junior hockey calendar is the 2016 CHL Import Draft, which gets underway Tuesday at 9 a.m. The Kootenay Ice hold the first-overall and 61st-overall selections at the two-round international draft.

2016-17 Kootenay Ice Regular Season Schedule

September (three games — one home, two away)Friday, Sept. 23 at CalgarySaturday, Sept. 24 vs. CalgaryFriday, Sept. 30 at Lethbridge

October (12 — eight home, four away)Saturday, Oct. 1 vs. SaskatoonTuesday, Oct. 4 vs. Moose JawFriday, Oct. 7 at ReginaSaturday, Oct. 8 at Moose JawMonday, Oct. 10 at Swift CurrentFriday, Oct. 14 vs. ReginaSaturday, Oct. 15 vs. Red DeerWednesday, Oct. 19 at Medicine HatFriday, Oct. 21 vs. Medicine HatWednesday, Oct. 26 vs. Prince GeorgeFriday, Oct. 28 vs. BrandonSunday, Oct. 30 vs. Brandon

November (13 — six home, seven away)Wednesday, Nov. 2 at ReginaFriday, Nov. 4 at Prince AlbertSaturday, Nov. 5 at SaskatoonSaturday, Nov. 12 at EdmontonTuesday, Nov. 15 vs. Medicine HatWednesday, Nov. 16 at LethbridgeFriday, Nov. 18 vs. EdmontonSaturday, Nov. 19 vs. CalgaryWednesday, Nov. 23 vs. Red DeerFriday, Nov. 25 at Red DeerSaturday, Nov. 26 vs. Swift CurrentSunday, Nov. 27 vs. EdmontonWednesday, Nov. 30 vs. Everett

December (11 — five home, six away)Friday, Dec. 2 at SeattleSaturday, Dec. 3 at PortlandTuesday, Dec. 6 vs. ReginaFriday, Dec. 9 at SpokaneSaturday, Dec. 10 vs. KelownaWednesday, Dec. 14 vs. Swift CurrentSaturday, Dec. 17 vs. KamloopsSunday, Dec. 18 at CalgaryTuesday, Dec. 27 vs. LethbridgeWednesday, Dec. 28 at LethbridgeFriday, Dec. 30 at Red Deer

January (13 — six home, seven away)Friday, Jan. 6 vs. SpokaneSaturday, Jan. 7 at SpokaneSunday, Jan. 8 vs. VancouverWednesday, Jan. 11 at Swift CurrentFriday, Jan. 13 at BrandonSaturday, Jan. 14 at BrandonWednesday, Jan. 18 vs. Prince AlbertFriday, Jan. 20 at Tri-CitySaturday, Jan. 21 at SpokaneTuesday, Jan. 24 vs. Medicine HatFriday, Jan. 27 vs. SpokaneSaturday, Jan. 28 vs. CalgaryTuesday, Jan. 31 at Medicine Hat

February (nine — seven home, two away)Wednesday, Feb. 1 vs. Medicine HatFriday, Feb. 3 vs. Moose JawSaturday, Feb. 11 vs. Prince AlbertSunday, Feb. 12 vs. LethbridgeWednesday, Feb. 15 at EdmontonFriday, Feb. 17 vs. SaskatoonSaturday, Feb. 18 vs. VictoriaFriday, Feb. 24 at Red DeerSaturday, Feb. 25 vs. Lethbridge

March (11 — three home, eight away)Wednesday, March 1 at EdmontonFriday, March 3 at SaskatoonSaturday, March 4 at Prince AlbertSunday, March 5 at Moose JawTuesday, March 7 at Medicine HatFriday, March 10 vs. Red DeerSaturday, March 11 at Red DeerTuesday, March 14 vs. EdmontonWednesday March 15 at LethbridgeFriday, March 17 vs. CalgarySaturday, March 18 at Calgary