They say life is a series of firsts, and the 2016 Okanagan Shuswap Conference Final is one of those firsts for the KIJHL. Two teams, both having spent 5 years or less in their respective communities, will battle one another for a Conference Title. The Summerland Steam and the 100 Mile House Wranglers enter the Okanagan Shuswap Conference Final each for the first time, and both feeling pretty good about their recent results.
The Wranglers dispatched the dark-horse, dare I say ‘cult favourite’ Chase Heat in just 5 games in the Doug Birks Division Final. This came on the heels of a somewhat surprising 5 game series victory over the perennial Doug Birks Division powerhouse Kamloops Storm. The team from the South Cariboo plays a ‘rough N’ tumble’ type game, displaying strong physical skills and great goaltending from the tandem of Zane Steeves and Adam Derochie. They’ve also got a few guys, including former Summerland Steam Forward Brett Harris, who can really put the puck in the back of the net.
Harris, along with Justin Bond and former Steam camp invitee Ryan Friesen lead the Wranglers up front. The three have combined for 34 points (12 goals, 22 assists) in 10 games, and do the bulk of the scoring for the reigning Doug Birks Division Champions.
The Wranglers play in a tough barn, the South Cariboo Rec Centre, which is usually full of 500-800 die hard Wranglers’ fans. This makes things difficult for opposing teams coming into the home building in 100 Mile House, and the Summerland Steam should expect no less with the Wranglers making their first appearance in the Okanagan Shuswap Conference Final.
Under Head Coach and General Manager Dale Hladun, the Wranglers have an identity. They make you pay both on the scoreboard as well as on the boards. They’re physical, possibly more physical than any team the Summerland Steam have seen this season, and spent the second most time shorthanded in the entire KIJHL during the regular season. The only team to be shorthanded more were the Grand Forks Border Bruins, so this might be an area that the Summerland Steam can capitalize on if they’re able to draw a few penalties.
Speaking of those Summerland Steam, their road to their first appearance in the Okanagan Shuswap Conference Final hasn’t been an easy one, either. They started with a 6 game slugfest with the Kelowna Chiefs, and then had to switch gears to be the underdogs against the Osoyoos Coyotes. With their track record against the Coyotes well documented, they surprised a lot of people by dispatching of the Regular Season Okanagan Division Champs in 6 games.
They’ve gotten to where they are now with a unique combination of defensive stiffness and a willingness to put the puck in the net. They’ve scored the most goals in the playoffs, but they’ve also allowed the most goals in the playoffs. Thankfully, they’ve been able to clamp down in their own zone when it’s been required, and have found themselves with a spot in the Okanagan Shuswap Conference Final.
The Steam find themselves in a unique situation heading into this series with the Wranglers, but it’s one that Head Coach John Depourcq’s coaching style lends itself to. With only one day between the end of the Okanagan Division Final and the start of the Conference Final, the one thing Head Coach John Depourcq says to us in every pre-game interview is going to be imperative for Summerland:
“Play our game and we’ll be fine.” – Steam Head Coach John Depourcq
They haven’t had time to prep for the Wranglers. They only have the memories of a 3-2OTW and a 2-1 win in regulation in mid-November to look back on, and if they can duplicate those results in Game 1, they’re going to be fine.
Game 1 goes tonight from the SCRC, while Game 2 goes tomorrow night at 7PM. Game 3 & 4 will be played in Summerland at the Summerland Arena at 7PM on Friday night and Saturday night this coming weekend. Tickets are available now at Nesters Market in downtown Summerland.