To say the 2015-16 Western Hockey League season was a challenging one for the Kootenay Ice might be an understatement.
One thing is for certain, life would have been much more difficult if not for the veteran presence of overage goaltender Wyatt Hoflin and captain Tanner Lishchynsky.
The two 21-year-olds suited up for the final WHL game of their careers Sunday afternoon at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary and with exit meetings taking place at Western Financial Place Tuesday afternoon, the two depart Cranbrook for the final time as members of the Kootenay Ice.
“No matter what comes at you, there’s a brighter side to anything, you’ve just got to find it,” Hoflin said Tuesday prior to hitting the highway back to his hometown of Spruce Grove, Alta. “You might have to dig harder through some things than others, but at the end of the day, something good can come out of anything. You’ve just got to continue to push hard.”
Hoping to play professional hockey, the call has yet to come for the four-year WHL veteran and as a result, he is thinking of heading to university, though the decision hasn’t been an easy one.
“I think I’m going to go to school, get a degree and get ready for life,” Hoflin said. “If hockey after that is what comes, then that’s perfect.”
The 6-foot-1, 182-pound netminder provided nothing short of an extensive highlight reel over the course of his four seasons with the Ice, in particular over the past two campaigns.
In 2014-15, Hoflin began rewriting the Kootenay Ice record book, establishing new marks for wins in a season (36), appearances in a season (67), minutes played in a season (3,848) and consecutive games played by a goaltender (29).
He continued the trend in 2015-16, setting a new Kootenay Ice all-time franchise record for saves with 4,505, surpassing the previous record set by Nathan Lieuwen (4,188).
It’s safe to say the soft-spoken, but comedic character left his mark on a franchise that originally selected him in the second round (37th overall) of the talent-rich 2010 WHL Bantam Draft.
For Lishchynsky, his four-year WHL career closes after playing 95 games with the Ice and 78 games with the Prince George Cougars prior to. Mix in an RBC Cup title with the Yorkton Terriers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in 2013-14 and the 6-foot-1, 182-pound blue liner has no shortage of memories either.
“There are a lot of great memories with a lot of different people,” Lishchynsky said before packing his bags and preparing for the drive home to Saskatoon. “I’m happy to have gotten schooling for every year I’ve played.
“With being named captain and having a bigger responsibility, [learning] how to treat players and get them to be the best that they can be is a life skill I’ve been able to learn. I’m happy for everything I’ve learned this year and I’ll keep moving forward.”
After 173 WHL games, Lishchynsky is set to go to university and hopes to play CIS hockey while studying kinesiology. He has yet to decide what school will play host to the next chapter of his life, but wherever he goes he is excited for the challenge.
While Hoflin and Lishchynsky depart for the final time, both hope to have left lasting impressions on a young squad that featured 10 first-year players in 2015-16.
“Control the things you can,” Hoflin said. “There are things within a hockey game and things within your life that you have no control over. Things like your work ethic, time you spend working on things in general, those are things you control and those are things that are going to help you. Focus on them because they’re the things that will get you through any time in your hockey career.”
For the journeyman Lishchynsky — whose junior hockey career took him from the Cougars to the Yorkton Terriers and on to the Flin Flon Bombers before he landed in Cranbrook — a strong work ethic is what carried him every step of the way, ultimately leading to being named the 20th captain in Kootenay Ice franchise history.
“Never give up,” Lishchynsky said. “Years like this happen every once in a while. You just keep moving forward, keep pushing and try to become a better person every day.”
Finishing 12-53-6-1, the Ice finished outside the WHL playoff picture for the first time since 1997-98 and ended the campaign with a record below .500, putting a halt to a WHL-record 16-year run of seasons at .500 or better (1999 to 2015).
The club’s 12 victories represent the lowest total in a campaign for the franchise, while 53 losses and 31 points represent the second most, respectively, in a season.