Steam, Chiefs Battle for Home Ice in Playoff Preview

With two games remaining each, the Summerland Steam and the Kelowna Chiefs have yet to decide who will have home ice advantage in their first round playoff series. After each team won two of three games last weekend, Summerland remains one point clear of the rival Chiefs as the final weekend of KIJHL Regular Season play kicks off Friday.

The two will have a chance to control their own destiny, as they face off one last time in the regular season on Friday night at 7:30pm at the Summerland Arena. The Steam are able to clinch 2nd place and home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a regulation victory, and will surely be looking to avenge the two nasty losses (11-4 and 9-0) to the Chiefs in Rutland a couple of weeks ago.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, can take possession of 2nd place and control their own destiny with a win in Summerland Friday. Both teams play their final regular season game Saturday with Summerland visiting the best team in the conference, the Revelstoke Grizzlies, and the Chiefs playing host to the Okanagan Division’s 4th place Princeton Posse.

Summerland has been able to get back to playing their game as of late, picking up victories over the Osoyoos Coyotes (5-4 OTW) and 100 Mile House Wranglers (7-4) in a tough back to back last weekend. They were unable to complete the weekend sweep on Monday afternoon, falling to the Princeton Posse by a 3-2 score thanks to Mort Johnston’s goal with 1:05 remaining in regulation time.

The loss was a big one, as a victory would have put them three points clear of the Chiefs with just two games remaining. Instead, they’ll battle those Chiefs head-to-head to see who will gain home ice advantage in the Okanagan Division Semi-Final, which starts February 23rd.

More important than the result on Monday was the fact that the team that got shell-shocked in Rutland twice the week previous was nowhere to be found. The Steam were using their speed to create offensive chances both off the rush and on the forecheck, and were (for the most part) tight and controlled in the defensive zone. None of those things were happening during the stretch where they lost six straight and seven of eight during a miserable January, so it’s good to see they’re getting the bugs worked out at the right time.

As for the Kelowna Chiefs, they’ve been on a torrid pace since Christmas, putting up goals in bunches on route to an 11-2-0-1 record in 14 contests. The arrival of goaltenders Joe McLeod, 20, and Reign Turley, 19, during the Christmas break solidified what had quickly turned into a position of weakness for the Chiefs, and off they went.

McLeod, a Kelowna resident, had started the season with the Drayton Valley Thunder of the AJHL before returning home to await a trade that never materialized. Instead, the former Castlegar Rebel found a home with the Chiefs, and promptly went 9-0 in his first nine starts. Turley, meanwhile, was playing Men’s Senior AA hockey near his home in Quesnel, BC, and landed with the Chiefs for the remainder of 2017/18.

Their newly solidified goaltending tandem, added to the return of forward Brody Dale and the acquisition of former Summerland Steam defenseman Matt Alcorn from the Campbell River Storm, filled a couple of holes in the Chiefs lineup and turned them into a contender.

The Chiefs were potent before with the likes of Brett Witala, Juanre Naude, and Devin Suttion in their employ, but got significantly stronger with the addition (again) of Dale in particular. He’s put up a low-key (insert eye-roll) 11 goals and 33 points in the 12 games since his return, and slots in on a line with Juanre Naude that does a lot of damage when the top line of Brett Witala, Zach Erhardt, and Devin Sutton are not on the ice.

Witala, who for my money is the best one-on-one player in the KIJHL, recently had a 19 game point streak snapped in 100 Mile House last Sunday afternoon. In those 19 games, Witala notched 15 goals, including six two-goal outings, and 53 points to send him into the Top-5 in KIJHL scoring with 82 points in just 35 games.

With all this offense coming fast and furious, mixed with their newfound goaltending stability, the Chiefs picked up 17 of 18 possible points in their first nine games post-Christmas. They’ve also scored at an alarming rate and convert on the power play more often than not, so it’s important to keep them in check.

These are the reasons they were able to close a sizeable gap on the Summerland Steam, mixed of course with Summerland’s streak of bad results, and force a 2nd place showdown tonight at the Summerland Arena.

The Steam will look to continue to build on their last three games. They’ve been much better at getting pucks and bodies to the front of the goal, and that’s what’s needed to beat a good hockey team and a great goaltender like Joe McLeod.

📸 Steve Dunsmoor, Dunsmoor Creative /Kelowna Chiefs

Summerland’s veterans, 20-year olds Scott Robinson, Blake Holowaty, Sam Jones, Brogan Lautard, and Matt Huber have done well to lead their team out of whatever funk they were in during the month of January, and will need to be on their toes again tonight to lead a young team to victory over an extremely potent Kelowna Chiefs squad.

It is unclear as of yet whether Summerland will get Everett Scherger, Ryan Allen, or Niall Lawrie back prior to the first game of the KIJHL Playoffs.

Puck drop tonight goes at 7:30pm. Joel and I will be on-air starting at 7:15pm with full pre-game on playfullscreen.com.

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