STEAM CHASE CHIEFS INTO FRIDAY NIGHT TILT

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It’s still early in the KIJHL season, just 17 games in, and both the Summerland Steam and Kelowna Chiefs look like the real deal. The two teams have connected twice so far this season on October 23rd and 24th in a home and home. Kelowna swept that mini-series with 2-1 and 3-2 victories, but it wasn’t for lack of effort on the part of the Summerland Steam.

Summerland had the edge in the possession game in both contests, generating more shots than Kelowna in both games. Unfortunately they weren’t able to get a complete 60 minutes in either game, and a couple of 3 or 4 minute lapses was all it took for the Kelowna Chiefs to capitalize.

You hear the term ‘quick strike offense’ in sports quite often, particularly in football or basketball, but that’s what the Kelowna Chiefs have. They do a great job capitalizing on other team’s mistakes, particularly when they’re in the offensive zone, and turn those into quick goals that sink teams.

That, coupled with stellar goaltending and a great powerplay put together a pretty darn good formula. As a matter of fact that formula is the sole reason they sit where they sit in 2nd place in the Okanagan Division, 5 points back of the Osoyoos Coyotes. With a record of 9-3-2-2-0 the Chiefs have amassed 20 points, and would be just a point pack of the ‘Yotes if not for 2 defaulted losses on the opening weekend of the 2015/16 KIJHL season.

Head Coach Jason Tansem along with GM Grant Sheridan and their staff have put together a great group of players with a mix of talent, grit, and hockey sense that make them very dangerous to play against. Perhaps the thing that makes the Chiefs toughest to play against is that they work hard. They don’t seem to take a shift off, and they do a great job at drawing penalties and converting with their powerplay.

When you look at the Kelowna Chiefs and the Summerland Steam, the big difference is goaltending and special teams, particularly the power play. Kelowna boasts a power play that ties with the Creston Valley Thunder Cats as the best power play in the KIJHL, clipping an an even (and astounding) 25% clip. Summerland, meanwhile, trundles along with one of the worst power plays in the league, converting at just a 9.76% conversion rate. They’ve been working on it and the quality of chances seems to be improving, but the conversion still isn’t quite there.

I’d love to tell you that I think that could change on Friday night, but Kelowna’s penalty kill is too good for me to suggest that. Kelowna kills ’em just about as well as they convert ’em, killing penalties at a near 93% rate through a third of the KIJHL schedule. The key for Summerland against Kelowna on Friday night will be to take care of their own business, be physical, and convert the chances they get.

A lot of the chances the Steam generate come from their top line. Paulsen Lautard really came to life last weekend for the Steam, posting a goal and an assist after being held pointless in his previous 4 games. Just as important as the captain’s contribution with the puck on his stick though, he was possibly even more impressive away from it. The line of he, Jack Mills, and Braden Eliuk are known best for the offensive output they provide and they did so against Princeton on Saturday night. Against the Nelson Leafs on Sunday afternoon though, the trio was probably Head Coach John Depourcq’s most dependable defensive line as well.

The Steam will need that effort from their captain and his line mates heading into two tough matchups this weekend with the Kelowna Chiefs on Friday night and the Castlegar Rebels on Saturday night.

The Chiefs and the Steam sit 2nd and 3rd in the Okanagan Division, respectively, separated by just 2 points. Both score at a rate of 3+ goals per game, and allow 2.5 or less goals per game, and both work hard to win puck battles. There isn’t much that separates the two, but the offensive potency of Jack Mills and Paulsen Lautard, coupled with the line of Wyatt Gale, Cole Williams and Jarrett Malchow might just be it. Mills and Lautard have struggled to put up points in recent games, but have made up for it by becoming reliable in the defensive zone as a unit. If they can put it all together at the same time Summerland becomes a dangerous team, and a team that has seen it’s lineup be ‘extended’ since Coach Depourcq moved Riley Pettitt between Cody Egilson and Calvin Hadley.

The newfound depth that Summerland’s found in the past 2 contests might prove useful against Kelowna, and as long as they can stay out of the penalty box against one of the best powerplays in the league, they should be just fine on Friday night.

Join myself and Joel Barg on KIJHL.ca powered by PlayFullScreen.com for pre-game at 7:15 ahead of a 7:30 puck drop from the Summerland Arena.

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