As the BC Hockey Roster Movement period came to a close at midnight on January 10th, the Summerland Steam and their management team saw it come and go with no moves. Not surprising, as Summerland remains one of the top four teams in the entire KIJHL in most major categories, and looks to close on the division leading Osoyoos Coyotes.
“We’re very happy with our group,” said Steam General Manager Mike Rigby on Wednesday morning, “From the beginning we’ve known that we have the pieces in our dressing room to get the job done every night. We have faith in our organization and its players to work hard for one another and continue to strive for success.”
Summerland heads down the stretch, with 15 games to play, happy with what they’ve got. So what is it they’ve got?
They’ve got four solid lines that can play in any situation, six defensemen that bring very different elements, and two goaltenders that can win them a game on any given night. They’re just fine without any additional help coming at the deadline. In fact, most teams were. Inside the Okanagan Division, the only team to swing a TRADE on January 10th was the Princeton Posse. They sent standout goaltender Chandler Billinghurst (’97) to the Castlegar Rebels in exchange for goaltender Jason Mailhiot (’98).
The Osoyoos Coyotes added former defensemen Tyler Holz (’96) back onto their roster, while the Kelowna Chiefs lost Brody Dale (’99) to the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers. The North Okanagan Knights, alongside the Summerland Steam, had no reported activity.
Summerland will start the post-deadline stretch this Friday night with their 4th and final visit to the desert to play the rival Coyotes. It’s the first of four meetings between the two teams in the final 15 games of the season, three of which will take place at the Summerland Arena where the Steam hold a 14-1-1-1 record.
The Coyotes are the team to beat right now in the Okanagan Shuswap Conference. They’re 8-1-0-1 in their past 10 games, and 16-1-0-1 since Summerland beat them 7-2 on the Sun Bowl ice surface on November 5th. Overall, Head Coach Ken Law’s team is 27-6-0-1, good for 55 points and a 9 point lead on Summerland in the divisional standings. The Steam do hold two games in hand as of right now, and the two teams have four head to head matchups remaining.
These two teams have propensity to play instant classics at this time of year, and the fact we get to see it four times in the remaining 15 games, plus potentially in the playoffs, is absolutely fantastic. If it’s true what they say, familiarity breeds contempt, there’s going to be a whole lot of it by the time the end of February comes around.
Driven by their veteran players, the Osoyoos Coyotes are in their familiar first position in the Okanagan Division standings. Summerland is also in their most familiar position, in second, trying to catch them. The two teams have run away at the top of the Okanagan Division for the third straight season, and it should be a dog fight to the finish.
If Summerland wants to keep pace, they need AT LEAST 3 of those 4 head to head wins. That starts Friday night in Osoyoos, when the two teams will face off for the fifth time this season. In four previous meetings the Coyotes have won three times. Once in overtime by a 5-4 score, and then by scores of 5-1 and 5-2. In all three of these games the Coyotes have had copious amounts of power play time, and have been allowed to cash in at least twice in each of the three meetings. The only Summerland victory against the Coyotes this season was the exact opposite of those three games. A 7-2 victory at the Sun Bowl saw Summerland connect twice on the power play, and not allow the Coyotes to score on their power play opportunities. In the 2016/17 season series, the Coyotes are 9/35 (!!) on the powerplay and have a 3-1 record while Summerland has scored four times on just 13 total opportunities and has a 1-2-0-1 record to show for it.
There seems to be a direct correlation between stopping the Coyotes on Special Teams and coming up with victories against them. In the six regulation losses and one overtime loss on the Coyotes record this season, they’ve been kept to just a 16.21% (6/37) conversion rate on their power play. That’s a significant drop from the 28.18% (51/181) they convert at in their 26 victories and 26.15% clip they keep overall.
Staying at 5v5 was how the Steam were able to beat the Coyotes in the playoffs last year, and that’s how it’s going to have to be again if Summerland is going to be successful. At 5v5, these two teams play fast, physical hockey that usually results in very close and entertaining hockey games. Summerland will look to get the puck in deep and use their forecheck to disrupt the Coyotes flow, while the Coyotes will look to get their defensemen involved inside the offensive zone to create offense.
Austin Steger and Daniel Stone are the two defensemen in particular that the Coyotes will look to for offense. Both 20 year-old KIJHL veterans, Steger and Stone are one/two in KIJHL scoring by defensemen. Stone, the Coyotes’ Captain, has put up 45 points (13G+32A) in 34 games this season, while Steger has put up a ridiculous 29 points (10G+19A) in just 15 games since joining the Coyotes from the Nelson Leafs. Including the 18 games played with the Leafs where Steger put up 2 goals and 10 points, it gives the 20 year-old from Edmonton 39 points in 33 KIJHL games this season.
Both of these players will not hesitate to jump in on a rush, or into the slot for an offensive opportunity. It will be the onus of Summerland’s wingers to make sure their coverage isn’t blown on the Coyotes defensemen. The powerplay seems to be where the two defensemen combine for most of their points. Everything the Coyotes do on their top powerplay unit comes from the side walls and runs through either Steger or Stone. They like to work the right wing wall, find Steger at the top, and a move to the left side for a Stone one timer. If the pass to Stone isn’t where he wants it, he’ll then move to the forward in the slot for a shot. It’s predictable, but they do it so well that they still score at a 26+% clip. Ideally Summerland will keep them off the PP, but that’s the play to look for if they can’t.
For the Steam it’ll be about creating pressure in all parts of the ice on Friday night to keep the Coyotes on their heels. Summerland has done a very good job in recent games making sure that they limit the second chance opportunities in front of their net, and clearing pucks on the first attempt. The black, red and white have been very good with their puck protection in their own zone, and will have to be cognizant of a very good Coyotes forward group always looking for quick opportunities.
It will likely be Matt Huber who starts in goal for the Steam on Friday, and they’ll look for a big effort from their second year keeper in a game that is extremely important in the standings if Summerland has hopes of a division championship. Huber, like all goaltenders, is better when he can see. It’s going to be important for Summerland’s defense corps to make sure the Coyotes, particularly the big body of Ryan Roseboom, don’t occupy territory in front of the Summerland net. The ability to see will allow Huber to track pucks and control rebounds.
At the other end, in front of Adam Jones, the Steam should look to do exactly what they’re trying to prevent in their own end. With a 2.38 goals against average and a .921% save percentage, Jones is going to stop most of what he can see. Summerland will need to drive to the front of the net and create some traffic if they want to beat one of the best statistical goaltenders in the KIJHL. It will be important for Summerland’s forwards to drive play below the Coyotes goal line and create offense from there by beating defenders with a good forecheck and cycle.
The summary of all of these things is very simple. If both of these teams play to their capabilities there’ll be one heck of a dog fight Friday night at the Sun Bowl, so buckle up and enjoy. Puck drop goes at 7:35 and will be available on playfullscreen.com via KIJHL Webcast with Tom Shields.