Through a third of the KIJHL schedule as October rolls to an end, the Summerland Steam headed into the final weekend of the month with an 11-3 record. They sat first in the KIJHL’s Okanagan Division by a bushel full of points, and were looking to continue their consistently strong play as they hosted the Kelowna Chiefs and Osoyoos Coyotes on consecutive nights.
With their lineup beginning to return to normal after being riddled with injury, the Steam hoped to flex their muscle over their division rivals and extend their division lead even further. The Chiefs came first, on Friday night at the Summerland Arena, and they came to play.
Summerland would come up with a 5-4 overtime victory, but not before having to come back to tie the game three different times. It showed some serious resolve from a young hockey team to come back in a game like that as many times as they did, and ultimately they were led by their veterans. Scott Robinson scored twice, including the goal to tie the game at 4 with :53 seconds remaining in the third period, while Blake Holowaty netted the game winner in overtime to secure the extra point. Matt Huber stopped 34 of 38 for his 9th victory of the season, and Luke Jirousek and Sam Jones also notched singles for the Steam. Lane Paddison with two, Brendan Mongey and Brett Witala all scored for the Chiefs, who dominated the majority of the first two periods.
The turning point of the game, with Kelowna outshooting Summerland heavily all night long, came with 5:02 remaining in the second period. With Kelowna up 3-2, Chiefs goaltender Aris Anagnastopoulos and Steam forward Morey Babakaiff were involved in an altercation in the Kelowna crease. It happened so far behind the play that we didn’t catch it in the broadcast booth or on camera, but by accounts of both Summerland and Kelowna fans and staff, it was quite the scene.
With Summerland buzzing in the offensive zone, Babakaiff took up a familiar post in front of the opposing net, looking to create a screen and perhaps deflect an oncoming puck. As the puck was turned over, the play turned back up into the neutral zone, and the rest of the players vacated accordingly. Babakaiff took a step away from the net before Anagnastopoulos reached around with his stick and made contact with Babakaiff’s nether regions. This, naturally, caused Babakaiff to respond, and he did so with a cross check to the goaltender’s chest.
As the play was moving back up the ice, nobody with a whistle in their hand, nor a black or white team jersey saw any of this happen, except for Kelowna defenseman Isaac Dutka. Dutka turned around in time to see Babakaiff take a swipe at his goaltender, and reacted how you may expect. He skated back, and he and Babakaiff then engaged in some sort of makeshift wrestling match that was ultimately called a fight and barred both players from the game. Dutka was given an instigator penalty plus a fighting major, while Babakaiff was assessed a 5-minute major for cross checking, and a 5-minute major for fighting.
Anagnastopoulos got away scot-free.
This fired up the Summerland bench something fierce, and very likely is what turned the game in their favor. Through two periods they mustered just twelve shots on goal, but came out blazing in the third looking to make a comeback.
They put 15 shots on Aris Anagnostopoulos in the third period, but were unable to break through until around the mid-point. Luke Jirousek scored nearly halfway through the third to tie things at three before Brett Witala responded for the Chiefs just :38 seconds later.
That score line would stick until the final minute, after Summerland spent the entire third period pushing forward. They were finally able to pot one with the extra attacker with :53 seconds remaining, courtesy of Scott Robinson. Robo would notch his eighth of the season, and second of the night, as he located a rebound to the left of Anagnastopoulos and lifted it over him to tie the game at 4.
That would earn each team a point, and Blake Holowaty would end it for the Steam in OT, batting a puck out of mid-air and past a sprawled Anagnastopoulos for a 5-4 overtime victory.
With the victory, the Steam kept their distance between themselves and the 2nd place Osoyoos Coyotes, who were also winners on Friday night in Armstrong. The Coyotes would come for a showdown on Saturday night, and there’s no doubt they were ready for it.
The ‘Yotes blew the doors off in the first period, scoring three times in the first 13:15 and a fourth before the first period was over to chase Matt Huber from the Summerland crease and take a 4-0 lead to the locker room. Carter Shannon would score his third of the night, this one past Owen Petten, just 1:10 into the second period to stretch the lead to 5-0 before Summerland began to show signs of life.
Scott Robinson would tally for the Steam at 15:06 of the second period, finding a puck in the slot and beating the little-tested Daniel Paul in the Coyotes crease. With the score 5-1 and there being signs of life around the Coyotes end of the ice, there was slim hope for a comeback as the Steam looked like they were finding their feet underneath them. That hope was snuffed out 1:01 after the Robinson goal when Hunter Johnson made it 6-1 Coyotes off the rush, beating Petten on the glove side.
Credit to the home team, however, they did not quit. Cody Swan scored a pair in the back half of the game to make it 6-3 before Connor Onstein rounded out the scoring late in the third. The Coyotes rolled to a 7-3 victory, handing Summerland just their fourth loss of the season. Of those four losses, three have come against those same Osoyoos Coyotes.
The season is only 1/3 done, but the season series with the Coyotes is nearly 1/2 way over. They’ll have to get it together and hope to beat them at least a couple of times if they want to win the division, and certainly if they want to have playoff success. As the month of October comes to a close, beginning to prep for the stretch drive to the playoffs will be in the back of everyone’s mind. Yes, it’s a long way off, but it’ll creep up a lot faster than one would think.
The Steam finished October with a 6-2 record, their best October in franchise history, and they lead the Okanagan Division by 5 points with a 12-4 record. The teams behind them though, namely the Coyotes and the Kelowna Chiefs, have two games in hand to play as well.
The Steam continue to be without veterans Everett Scherger and Morey Babakaiff, as well as rookies Bailey Tamminga and Riley Smoler. Scherger and Tamminga continue to recuperate from injury, while Smoler will serve the third and final game of a suspension in Summerland’s next game. Babakaiff had returned from injury on Friday night against Kelowna, where he re-aggravated the same injury in the altercation with Anagnostopoulos and Dutka.
The Steam are back in action this coming Friday, with another home date on tap against the North Okanagan Knights at 7:30PM. The last two games against the Knights have been barn burners, both needing overtime and resulting in 2-1 and 5-4 Summerland victories. They’ll then have Saturday off before firing up the bus for a Sunday visit to the Sicamous Eagles. Summerland will have to get familiar and comfortable with that bus, having only played five road games thus far. Three of those trips have been trips inside an hour’s drive, to Princeton, Osoyoos, and Kelowna, so they’ll have to get comfortable as they get set for a heavy road schedule in the coming months.
All broadcasts are available on Playfullscreen.com, and Joel and I will have pre-game starting at 7:15pm on Friday night ahead of Summerland’s home game against the North Okanagan Knights.