For the first two months of the 2015.16 Kootenay International Junior Hockey League season the Summerland Steam and Kelowna Chiefs paid little mind to one another. They played leap frog between 2nd and 3rd place, presumably waving (I won’t say how many) fingers at one another on the way by, but never squared off. Summerland started hot and cooled through the month of October, while Kelowna started slowly and brought the heat throughout 2015’s 10th month.

The two teams met for the first time in a home & home on October 23rd a 24th. These two games were ones that Summerland outplayed the Chiefs by the numbers, but came up short by one goal on consecutive nights due to a couple of defensive lapses. Since those two games with Kelowna in late October, Summerland’s done a much better job of limiting said defensive lapses, and it’s been translating into victories for them.

The meeting on Friday night between the Steam and the Chiefs at the Summerland Arena will now all of a sudden be their 4th of the season. It also marks the 4th game between the two teams in a 28 day span. That’s once a week on average, for those counting, and the gloves now seem to be off. We’re near the halfway mark of the season now with Kelowna having played 23 of their 52 and Summerland playing 21 of their 52, and with rosters set there seems to be some familiarity blooming between the two teams.

With familiarity comes disdain in the world of Junior hockey, and the more you play against a team the less likely you are to get along with them. It’s what spawns good rivalries, and it’s what makes playoffs so much fun when it all comes down to it at the end of the season. This rivalry is never quiet, particularly after a 7 game playoff series last year that was quite possibly the most entertaining I’ve ever seen in the KIJHL.

The rivalry carried over into this season, and should surely flood into Friday’s contest. Kelowna sits in 2nd place in the Okanagan Division, 2 points ahead of Summerland who sits comfortably in third with a 13 point cushion on the 4th place North Okanagan Knights (who Summerland will see at home Tuesday night).

Summerland, who owns a good home record at 6-2, will look to continue a 6 game win streak, while the Chiefs will look to start a streak as they won their last game 2-1 in OT over those same North Okanagan Knights that were just mentioned. Both Summerland and Kelowna hold 7-3 records in their previous 10 games, and will put those great records on the board when they go head to head on Friday.

Kelowna will be without their captain, Ryan Lawson, who sits the 5th and final game of a 5 game suspension he picked up vs Kamloops on November 7th. He picked that up thanks to a goaltender interference/staged fight incident that got him an accumulated 5 game ban.

Kelowna will also be without Kevin Roth for the foreseeable future, possibly the season, due to what is believed to be an upper body injury. Roth was injured on October 23rd in Summerland, and unfortunately has not played since. It looks as though he’s been moved to the reserve roster for the Chiefs, which would signal (to me, anyway) that it could be long term. That, in itself, is unfortunate because as I’ve said before, I LOVE watching Kevin Roth play hockey. Pound for pound I think he’s the best defenceman in the Okanagan Division and hopefully he gets healthy soon, as that is the #1 priority.

With the injury to Roth, Kelowna enters with just 6 d-men on their roster. They have added forward Kelsey Byrne to the mix since the last time we saw them, and personally I think that makes them a better team.

Byrne comes to Kelowna after spending parts of last season and this season with the North Okanagan Knights. The 20 year old native of Kelowna has 2 goals and 2 assists in 16 games played with the Knights this season. Byrne has split his KIJHL service time over the past two seasons between the Chiefs and the Knights, amassing 13 points (7G + 6A) in 48 career KIJHL games.

From what I’ve seen of him over the past year and a bit, he’s a player that Chiefs’ Head Coach Jason Tansem will love. A kid that plays the game the right way, battles every shift, and doesn’t hesitate to mix it up when absolutely necessary. He’s good on the forecheck, and especially good on the penalty kill, which will make the Chiefs that much tougher for Summerland to play against.

On the goaltending side of things, I would EXPECT to see Brady Lenardon between the pipes for the Chiefs. You never really know for sure, and you can’t go wrong with EITHER of Lenardon or Josh Tetlichi, but after Tetlichi started 2 of 3 last weekend, I’d expect Lenardon back in there on Friday night.

As for Summerland, I’d expect to see Jacob Mullen again for the Steam. Mullen played both last weekend and collected 2 victories up in the Cariboo over the 100 Mile House Wranglers. I didn’t watch the game on Saturday night as there was no broadcast, but on Friday night he was the reason that Jack Mills had an opportunity to shine in overtime.

The Steam could possibly debut a new addition on Friday against the Chiefs, as they’ve recently acquired ’98 born Forward Josh Pilon from the Revelstoke Grizzlies. The 17 year old Revelstoke native has recorded 2 goals and 2 assists in 11 games this season after recording 30 points (14G + 16A) in 49 games for the Grizzlies last season as a 16-year old. Pilon gives the Summerland coaching staff another offensive weapon, and is billed as a kid who will bang and crash his way to the front of the net to collect points.

He’ll no doubt help the Steam, who’ve really put it together during their current 6 game win streak. They’ve really cut down on the time spent in their defensive zone, while also improving their quality of shots in the offensive end. This has led to more frequent, and higher quality scoring chances that they’ve been able to convert as of late.

Most of that has to do with a much better first pass. The first pass out of the defensive zone is, in my opinion, the most important pass any player can make on an ice surface. It sets up the breakout and the transition from defense to offense, and with Summerland’s speed a good first pass helps them a LOT. If they can continue that trend this weekend against the Chiefs on Friday, the Border Bruins on Sunday afternoon, and the North Okanagan Knights on Tuesday night, I think they’ll be successful.

Despite the quality hockey that will be played on Friday night though, there is a bigger cause at hand when the Chiefs visit. The Summerland Steam organization has teamed up with local partner and Corporate Sponsor IGA Summerland to help stock the shelves for the Holiday season at the Summerland Community Food Bank.

IGA Summerland is offering FREE GAME TICKETS to the first 100 people who come to the door with food donations on Friday night in hopes that they are able to help the Summerland Community Food Bank stock up for the coming holiday season. They’ll be on hand from 6PM to 9PM collecting these donations, and will have their famous Buggy Races during the first intermisson. These are always equally as entertaining as the game itself, so you’re not going to want to miss it.

The Steam will also host their Yaki’s Pizza and Sub Chuck-A-Puck, which they do during the 2nd intermission of every home game, and FortisBC will be on hand as our Game Night Sponsor with contests, prizes and giveaways as well.

Joel, Mike and Myself will go live on with a full 15 minute pre-game show prior to puck drop at 7:30. We’ll be on the air at 7:15 to set up all the action from the Summerland Arena!

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