Steam Ready For Pre-Christmas Finale

After a successful home and home against the reigning Keystone Cup Champion 100 Mile House Wranglers this past weekend, the Summerland Steam are back to work prepping for their final action before the holidays. Heading for the break, this group can look back fondly on what can only be considered a successful first half of the 2016.17 KIJHL season. 

They have the second best team goals against average in the KIJHL at 2.21 goals allowed per game, best in their conference. They’ve got the second most points in the division and the conference next to the Osoyoos Coyotes, and they’re only 2 points back. They’ve got the number five ranked power play, and the number one ranked penalty kill in the KIJHL and are +41 in the goal differential department through 28 games. 

The Steam hold a 19-6-1-2 record overall, and close out the pre-Christmas schedule with a 12-1-1-1 home record in 15 home games. There are eight home games remaining before the playoffs, and that’s where the schedule gets tough. They’ll see the Osoyoos Coyotes on home ice three times, the Kelowna Chiefs twice more at the Summerland Arena, and Chase, Princeton, and North Okanagan one more time each. Not an easy home schedule, as all but one of those teams (either North Okanagan or Princeton) will be a playoff team come the end of February. 

That’s a ways away. 

For now the Steam will focus on the road ahead, which leads them to Kamloops and then to Kelowna to close out their pre-Christmas schedule. They’ve seen the Kamloops Storm once this season, picking up an overtime victory courtesy of a Steven Fiust breakaway goal. Kelowna, a much more familiar foe, they’ve seen three times and picked up two wins by 4-3 and 4-1 scores at home. 

Those two games will be vastly different, and both will require Summerland to stick to their game plan and do the things that Head Coach John Depourcq and his staff have been teaching all season. 

In Kamloops on Friday, the Steam will see a very young Kamloops Storm team that skates well, moves the puck, and is extremely well coached by Head Coach Ed Patterson and assistant Kyle Panasuk. They’re young, as Kamloops usually is, because they have so many players move on every single season. But just because they’re a young team doesn’t mean a whole lot. The Storm sit 2nd in the Doug Birks Division, trailing only the Chase Heat, and look well poised for another run to the playoffs.

There are several young players for Kamloops that will likely be tapped for the Top Prospects Showcase on January 14th in Kelowna. One player to watch in particular for the Storm is ’99 born defenceman Garrett Ewart. When the Storm visited the Summerland Steam early in September, Ewart was already a guy to watch for. As a 17 year old defenceman, you’d expect a kid to get his feet wet in Jr Hockey, make sure to limit mistakes, and not take too many chances.

 Not Ewart

The kid has done nothing but be impressive for the Storm this season in both ends of the rink, racking up 35 points in 28 games and leading the team in scoring while being a steady defender that plays in all situations. 

He along with Evan Walls, Nate Pelletier, and recently returned 20 year-old Mitch Friesen help to keep the Storm going strong, and will likely do so Friday when the Summerland Steam visit the old Kamloops Memorial Arena. 

Kamloops’ goaltending situation has become more clear in recent weeks as well. After losing starter Aris Anagnoustopolous to the Prince George Spruce Kings of the BCHL early in November, the Storm had been using Affiliate Players as backups and even to start some games. Nearing the December 1st deadline, they brought in 20 year-old Jason Sandhu from the Nelson Leafs as well as 19 year-old Kolby Pauwels from Sicamous to stabilize the situation. The two have done so, and the Storm continue to climb the standings. 

After the Steam play the Storm on Friday, they’ll see a much more familiar, and much different, foe in Rutland Saturday in the form of the Kelowna Chiefs. The Chiefs are totally the opposite of the Kamloops Storm team the Steam will see Friday night, and it’s important for Summerland to not change their game plan. 

Having seen the Chiefs three times already this season, and getting ready to see them five more times before the end of the regular season, the Steam (and the rest of the league) are taking notice of the Chiefs game and know what to expect.

With 1411 penalty minutes through their first 28 games, the Chiefs are amassing an average of 50.39 penalty minutes PER NIGHT. They’re doing this by racking up fighting majors, misconducts and major infractions like head contact, charging, spearing and slew footing that come with automatic misconducts and ejections.

Just this weekend, for at least the second time in this KIJHL season, the Chiefs found themselves in two line brawls on successive stoppages in play. In both instances on Saturday night against the North Okanagan Knights these started with Chiefs players, first captain Josh Johnston and then Elliott Pickrell, picking up instigator AND Aggressor penalties for their roles in each one.

Kelowna is a talented hockey team, there’s no question about it. In 3 games against Summerland this season so far, all but one have been one goal games and all three have been (mostly) entertaining affairs. 

When their energy is channeled in the appropriate direction, the Chiefs ‘have the horses’ to skate with any team in the conference without question. They’ve got top end KIJHL talent at all positions including goaltender Tanner Marshall, defenceman Joel Scrimbit, and forwards Brody Dale and Brett Witala. The problem is that those top end players, particularly Dale and Witala, are no exception to the penalty minute crisis the Chiefs create for themselves recently.

Witala is a dynamic hockey player that sits in the top 5 in KIJHL scoring. He may be one of the best skaters, and best one-on-one players in the league. Unfortunately, he’s also one of five Chiefs in the top 6 in the KIJHL in penalty minutes. The only non-Chief in the top 6 in penalty minutes is Steam Forward Mike MacLean.

Dale, meanwhile, was extremely disciplined until returning from a recent stint with the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers. In five games since returning to the Chiefs, Dale has taken three head contact penalties, including two in one game against the 100 Mile House Wranglers on December 2nd and a major in the final five minutes last Saturday against North Okanagan.  Of the 77 penalty minutes racked up by the 17 year-old from Quesnel, BC, 65 have come in the past five games he’s played in.

This isn’t uncharted water for the Kelowna Chiefs. It’s been a concern all season for the rest of the league, and it only gets worse as the games go on. The Chiefs have run their total to 1411 PIM, or an average of 50.39 per game through 28 games, and I decided it might be worth it to see how this total can actually be possible. 

I went back through boxscores for all games this season, and noticed some pretty astonishing things. The Chiefs have only nine games out of 28 (a shade under a third of their games played) in which they HAVEN’T taken either a major penalty or penalties that BC Hockey considers ‘predatory’ (Kneeing, clipping, butt-ending, Head contact, etc).

In total, the Chiefs, 3rd in the Okanagan Divison standings, have taken 54 penalties that fall into these categories in the 28 games they’ve played. Subtract the 9 games they haven’t taken one, and that’s 54 in 19 games. That’s nearly 2.5 of these types of penalties per game on average, including 9(!!) minor+misconduct or major Head Contact penalties. 

I reiterate, because I know this going to incite outrage from certain readers: these are just facts. Nothing more. 

As previously stated, when the Kelowna Chiefs put their minds to the task at hand, playing against the best in the conference, they hold their own. They are a TALENTED Hockey team that’s strengths include their top 6 forwards, and probably the best 16 year-old goaltender in the league in quite some time.

However, this penalty minute situation is beginning to be a growing concern for those around the league, and might need to begin to be monitored. Teams are now preparing for Kelowna as if the main goal is to not get hurt, which is something that it not good for the league or it’s players.  

Going into the Rutland Arena on Saturday night, the Steam will be mostly healthy. They will be facing what will likely be a Kelowna lineup filled with Affiliate Players due to the suspensions of Tyler Love, Brody Dale, Kolten Carpenter and Ty Dornn, all picked up last Saturday in two separate brawls with North Okanagan.

Tyson Taylor will be eligible to return from a second consecutive ‘accumulated instigstors’ suspension, so it is likely the Chiefs will be without at least those four regulars suspended from Saturday. 

Summerland will get Mike MacLean back this weekend after missing the past 2 games due to suspension as well as they head for the holiday break.

Puck drop for both of Summerland’s games this weekend is 7pm, first at Kamloops Memorial Arena Friday, followed by the trip to Rutland on Saturday. Both games will be available on playfullscreen.com. 

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