STEAM GET SET FOR A VISIT FROM THE BRAVES

With a spot in the KIJHL Playoffs officially secure, the Summerland Steam will look to keep the train rolling on Friday night against the Spokane Braves. The Steam have started 2016 in impressive fashion, going 3-0-0-1 in their first four games of the calendar year. The only blemish on their record is an overtime loss to the Chase Heat on January 8th, in a game they led 4-2 with under 3:00 on the clock. Chase was able to score two goals in the final 2:11 to tie the score, and eventually win it in OT.

Since that game, Summerland has been up to task. They picked up a 3-2 win on Sunday in Oliver against the Osoyoos Coyotes, and a 4-1 victory over Princeton on Tuesday night clinched them their playoff spot for good. Matt Huber only faced 10 shots in that game en route to picking up his 13th win of the season. He had a new back-up on Tuesday night, as newly acquired goaltender Matt Kostiw arrived from Campbell River in time for warm-up. He’ll likely get the start Friday when the Steam host the Spokane Braves for the one and only time at the Summerland Arena.

The Steam don’t see the Braves very often, only twice a year every other year, but have had some success against them already this season. Summerland went south of the border on the second weekend of the KIJHL season and picked up a 5-3 victory in Spokane. That’s the only time the two teams have faced each other this season, and the win for Summerland came on the back of a 4 goal performance from then Steam forward Cole Woodliffe. Woodliffe departed after that 4 goal performance in Spokane, and has played with the Weyburn Red Wings of the SJHL (Saskatchewan Jr Hockey League) ever since. He’s recorded 3 goals and 12 points in 30 games for the Red Wings to go along with 37 penalty minutes.

Since that September 19th meeting between the Steam and the Spokane Braves, the teams have gone in different directions. Summerland has continued success and climbed to within 6 points of the Osoyoos Coyotes at the top of the Okananagan Division. A combination of potent offense and strong defensive play has gotten them to where they are, and they’re looking to fine-tune their game headed for the playoffs.

The Braves, meanwhile, have struggled this season. The KIJHL’s oldest continuous franchise, around since the start of the 1971-72 season, the Braves are in the middle of what would be considered a ‘down year.’ What I mean by that is the Spokane Braves are usually a good hockey team right in the middle of the Neil Murdoch Division playoff race. It’s almost been a sure thing, as a matter of fact, as the Braves have made the postseason in every season the KIJHL has online records for. That dates back to 2006/’07, marking 10 straight seasons with a playoff birth.

This season though, they’re going to have a little work ahead of them if they want to make a bid for an 11th straight postseason birth. They currently trail the 4th place Nelson Leafs by 19 points with 14 games to go. The KIJHL is a league where any team can beat any team on any night so it’s still a possibility that the Braves could sneak in the back door, so you know they’ll be hungry on Friday night.

One bright spot for the Braves this season has been 20-year-old Kurtis Redding. Playing for his hometown team, Redding will play his 221st career KIJHL game on Friday night against the Steam. He’ll pass former Braves forward and the KIJHL’s current scoring leader Jesse Collins in Games Played when he steps on the ice on Friday.

A native of Spokane, WA, Redding has a career high 16 goals during the 2015/16 KIJHL season. To go with the 16 goals he has 16 assists to total 32 points in 38 games played. To put into perspective how important Redding is to the Spokane Braves, his 32 points come on 82 total goals scored as a team. That means 39.02% of the Braves goals at some point go through Kurtis Redding.

Similarly for Summerland, 38.21% of Summerland’s 123 goals as a team at some point come into contact with leading scorer Jack Mills. With 47 points, Mills sits 9th in league scoring heading into the weekend. Impressively, of the top 10 scorers in the KIJHL Mills carries the lowest power play point percentage. 38 of his 47 points this season have come either at even strength or shorthanded.

That last part isn’t much of a surprise. Most of Mills’ points have come at even strength or shorthanded because Summerland doesn’t score many power play goals. Sitting dead last in the league on the power play, the Steam have only scored 17 power play goals in 38 regular season games. That’s good for just a 10.18% scoring percentage on a total of 167 opportunities. It hasn’t cost them yet, but it’s something they’ll need to address heading down the stretch.

It would be good for Summerland to get their power play sorted out this weekend, with the 20th ranked penalty kill of the Spokane Chiefs coming into the Summerland Arena this Friday night.

Look for numbers and game notes tomorrow morning. Puck drop goes 7:30 tomorrow night at the Summerland Arena. Mike, Joel and I will have pre-game starting at 7:15.

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