Whether going all the way or losing out too soon, it’s always tough when the WHL season comes to an end.
Especially in major-junior hockey, as kids transition from boys to men, the end of the WHL campaign is the end of a career for at least three players.
Such was the case again this season, as defenceman Jagger Dirk, and forwards Zach McPhee and Zach Franko will move on to the next chapter of their lives.
Some have been a staple with the Kootenay Ice for years, while others, despite shorter tenures with the club, were no less important.
Dirk, who was chosen 235th overall in the 11th round of the 2008 bantam draft, joined the team full time in December of 2009 after starting the season in the BCHL as a rookie 16-year-old.
A native of Penticton and the son of former NHLer Robert Dirk, Jagger developed into a reliable blueliner with an offensive touch during his five years with the Ice.
He leaves with a career total of 139 points in 310 games played in the regular season, with an additional 41 post-season appearances, where he collected 16 points—all of which came in his final overage year.
It goes without saying that the highlight of his career is capturing the 2011 WHL Championship after the Kootenay Ice defeated the Portland Winterhawks in five games.
While that is one specific memory that he will always cherish, there’s more to take away from his time in Cranbrook.
“All the experiences that I’ve gone through and all the friends and teammates I’ve made and living with the same billet family for five years, and just everything,” Dirk said. “Obviously, when we won, that’s what sticks out the most, but also all the great people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and play with, to see them go on and succeed and make a life for themselves—I’m one of those guys now.”
Dirk admits he has no idea what next year holds in store for him, whether it be school or chasing a professional career in hockey.
“You want to go far in hockey, but it’s not the be all and end all,” said Dirk. “There are so many options—I could go to school and all the people you can connect with because of the WHL and in Cranbrook, it’s the people and the memories that I will never forget.”
While forward Zach McPhee wasn’t around as long as Dirk, he still was an important addition to the Ice when he came via trade from the Everett Silvertips in November 2012.
With injuries piling up at the time, McPhee added size, physicality and the ability to play on the wing or centre.
The native of Vernon went on to tally 11 points in the remainder of the season with the Ice, and played in a career total of 174 WHL games.
Originally picked in the sixth round of the 2008 bantam draft by the Tri City Americans, McPhee was sent to Everett in 2010 before arriving in Cranbrook.
While he added energy and a punishing physical presence to the forward corps, he eventually started getting noticed for his off-ice talents.
Like any musically-inclined teenager, McPhee picked up the guitar when he was about 12 years old after getting one as a Christmas present and became self-taught like his dad and his brother
“That’s what they had to do, so they just kind of gave me the chords that would get me by to start, then after that, I was on my own,” said McPhee.
Turns out the guy can also sing.
After some prodding from former Ice teammate Brock Montgomery, McPhee set up an account on the video-sharing website Youtube, and began posting cover songs and original content.
“I wouldn’t say he forced me to do it, but he encouraged it, I guess, and after I played for them [teammates], just kept it going and made more and more covers.”
His talent was noticed by some pretty big names in the music industry, and McPhee was eventually contacted by country music star Aaron Pritchett, which was another connection through Montgomery.
“He [Pritchett] knew Brock’s cousin or something like that,” said McPhee, “…so he got in contact with me and this past summer, I was down on the coast and we did some recording.
“It wasn’t anything big; it just kind of got a feel for it and hopefully it happens more.”
McPhee plans to take some time back home in Vernon to chart the next phase of his life, but has no plans to rush into anything.
“I’ve talked to some schools and stuff, but I’m not going to make any decisions for a bit, just to see if any more call and what will happen,” said McPhee. “Just keep pursuing hockey and going to school.”
Simply searching for Zach McPhee on Youtube will bring up his channel and videos.
Though Franko only spent half a season with the Ice, his contributions to the team were pretty invaluable.
Acquired from the Kelowna Rockets at the trade deadline for a pair of draft picks, Franko came right in and found himself on the top line with Sam Reinhart and Jaedon Descheneau.
He spent four years with the Rockets before getting sent to Cranbrook, but he didn’t didn’t miss a beat in his opening weekend, scoring a pair of goals in his second game to lead the Ice to a 5-4 win over the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Slippery in the corners, Franko had the ability to evade the opposition’s defence down low while setting up his two linemates.
In 28 games with the Ice, Franko notched nine goals and 12 assists, and was a key scoring piece in the post-season as well.