To start the 2017/18 KIJHL season, if someone would have classified the Summerland Steam as an ‘offensive juggernaut’, this broadcaster would have placed money on the opposite. With the majority of their experience playing on the blue line and in goal, most close to the Summerland Steam organization figured they would be winning games by 2-1 or 3-2 scores.
Instead, a young and inexperienced offense led by just a couple of veterans, Everett Scherger, Morey Babakaiff, and converted defenseman Scott Robinson, has become that offensive juggernaut that few expected. Through six regular season games they’ve scored 31 times, averaging 5.17 goals per game while giving up just 13 goals against. Firing on all cylinders, they were able to roll over the Sicamous Eagles and Kamloops Storm this past weekend, outscoring the two opponents 13-4 in the process.
After pouring in eight goals against Sicamous Friday in an 8-2 victory, they added 5 more in a 5-2 victory against Kamloops on Saturday. They’ve scored more goals than everybody in the KIJHL but the Grand Forks Border Bruins, and lead the league in goal differential at a whopping +18.
The eight goal outburst on Friday against Sicamous came after a 6-0 romp of the same Eagles in their last game the Saturday prior. In the 8-2 home win Friday, Summerland got hat-trick efforts from both Everett Scherger and Lukas Jirousek, while getting a goal each from newcomers Blake Holowaty and Simon Snyman.
Holowaty also had an assist in his Steam debut, and followed that up with a two goal, one assist effort the next night against Kamloops. In that game Wyatt Kelly notched his first KIJHL goal, while Cody Swan and Riley Smoler also scored for the home team.
Matt Huber took home both victories on the weekend, stopping 26 of 30 combined shots over the course of both games. He wasn’t busy, or tested often, but he made the saves necessary to pick up the victories and keep the Steam out ahead of the rest of the Okanagan Division before divisional play really starts this weekend.
It will be interesting to see how the Steam fair as they begin play against their own division on Friday night. Their six games thus far, all against Doug Birks Division opponents, have been a good test for a young hockey team and shown that they can flat out play. They’ll get their first taste of the division’s elite when they face the rival Osoyoos Coyotes at home on Friday before heading into Rutland to play the Kelowna Chiefs on Saturday night.
They’ll lean on the veteran presence of their defense in that pair of games, surely, but these types of opponents are exactly the reason for looking to bring in a forward like Blake Holowaty. Veteran leadership up front was something that Summerland had been looking for since the beginning of preseason, and it looks as though they’ve found it in the 20-year old Penticton native. He notched five points in his first two games, and was the best player on the ice for the majority of both hockey games. He’s a great addition to the forward group, and will provide some guidance to the younger players getting used to the pace and physicality of Jr. B hockey.
The Coyotes team that Summerland will see on Friday night will be a lot different than years past. They’re younger, and seem to be in a much more ‘score by committee’ mode than anyone is used to seeing from a Ken Law led hockey team early in the season. They’re waiting on the return of superstar Colin Bell, who is helping protect our province and fighting wildfires in the Cariboo region. They’re expecting him to return sometime in October, and will get much more dangerous when he does.
The Kelowna Chiefs, however, are laden with firepower in the form of team captain Brett Witala and forward Brody Dale. Dale, who spent the back half of the 2016/17 season with the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL, leads the KIJHL in points per game average through three weekends at 3.3 points per game. He’s only played three, and has five goals and five assists in those three games. Summerland will need to defend Kelowna’s top line to the fullest extend if they want success against the rival Chiefs. The Chiefs had been handling all tests up until Saturday night, when they ran into penalty trouble in Chase. The Heat scored six times on the power play on route to a 7-0 victory over Chase’s former franchise, the Chiefs.
Summerland will look to continue their strong play, and it starts with the defensive side of the puck. They’ve done well to limit their turnovers in their first six games, and are doing well to clear the puck from the zone on the first attempt. They’re letting their goaltenders see the puck, and making sure second and third opportunities aren’t available for would be attackers in front of the net. They’re also doing well to stay out of the box, which will come in handy especially against the Coyotes and their propensity to victimize the Steam penalty kill.
Overall, a 5-1 start to the season is what the Steam were looking for in their six games against the Doug Birks Division. They’ll now get fired up to see the Coyotes and the Chiefs for the first of AT LEAST eight times this season, and see how they stand up against the opponents they’ll see the most over the course of the season.
‘Rivalry Weekend’ starts Friday night, a 7:30 puck drop from the Summerland arena against the Osoyoos Coyotes. Joel and I will have full pre-game with audio from both coaches starting at 7:15PM on playfullscreen.com!