STEAM PREP FOR THUNDER CATS AFTER PAIR OF ROAD LOSSES

The Summerland Steam spent the weekend on the bus last weekend, taking a 5-4 2OT loss to the North Okanagan Knights on Friday, and a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Garrett Hilton and the 100 Mile House Wranglers on Saturday night in the South Cariboo. The Steam won’t have to wait long to exact revenge on the Wranglers, as they’ll face-off again this Saturday night at the Summerland Arena.

In the game against North Okanagan on Friday, the Steam jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the Knights mounted a furious comeback. Goals from Zak Cooper (4), Cody Swan (5) and Ethan Grover (2) had the Steam up 3-0 before the Jett Saharchuk show took over for the Knights. Saharchuk notched a pair of goals and two assists in the Knights’ comeback attempt, and actually helped the Knights take the lead on the power play with 3:05 remaining in the game. It took a Morey Babakaiff goal (3) with :32 remaining to get the Steam at least a point, before Cole Haberlack would seal it for the Knights deep in 2ot.

Eric Scherger made 34 saves in the losing effort, while Summerland piled 48 shots on Knights newcomer Devin Chapman in goal.

After the ride home Friday night from Armstrong, the Steam were straight back onto the bus and headed for the South Cariboo on Saturday to play the 100 Mile House Wranglers. It’s almost like a home game for the Steam when they play in 100 Mile House, because the Williams Lake contingent travels to support the team in a big way. Unfortunately, the Wranglers’ power play got the best of them, going 3/6 on route to a 5-0 win. Garrett Hilton led the wranglers with a hat-trick and two assists, and was in on all 5 goals that beat Jared Breitkreuz, who made 30 saves.

Daniel Allin stopped 35 for the Wranglers for his second shut out of the season. On Sunday, Allin signed with the Drumheller Dragons of the AJHL and is no longer with the Wranglers.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Next up for the Steam are the Creston Valley Thundercats on Friday night and the 100 Mile House Wranglers on Saturday. This weekend marks the Steam’s PARENTS WEEKEND, so there will be a few familiar faces around to take in events on both Friday and Saturday nights at the Summerland Arena.

The Creston Valley Thunder Cats come into the Summerland Arena for the first time in four seasons riding a 5-9-0-2 record and sitting 5th in a very tough Eddie Mountain Division. They haven’t made a visit to The Station since November 21, 2014, on a night where a Jack Mills power play goal completed a Steam comeback to take a 4-3 victory.

They’ve undergone a bit of a youth movement this season, and not just on the ice. At the helm is Head Coach and General Manager Nick Redding, who at 27 years of age (Happy Birthday on October 29) is the youngest Head Coach in the KIJHL. Redding played 196 games over four seasons in the KIJHL for the Spokane Braves before playing at Eastern Washington University for three years. Upon leaving Eastern Washington, he was an Assistant Coach and General Manager for the Braves in 2017/18 before taking the job in Creston Valley a couple of games into this season.

Not only do the T-Cats have Nick Redding on their bench, but Assistant Coach Jesse Collins as well. Collins is just 25-years old, and the KIJHL’s all-time leader in both assists and points. Collins played for both the Braves and the Thunder Cats as a player, and amassed 227 assists and 319 total points to lead the KIJHL in both categories. He had his number retired in Creston a couple of years ago and is widely known as one of the best players their franchise has had in recent memory.

These guys know what it takes to play and succeed in the KIJHL. Their record may not show it now at 5-9-0-2, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Thunder Cats are in a fight for a playoff spot for most of the season. They play in arguably the toughest division in the KIJHL with the Fernie Ghostriders, Kimberley Dynamiters, Golden Rockets and Columbia Valley Rockies all sporting records above a .500% win percentage. There are no easy games in the Eddie Mountain Division, and that will condition the Thunder Cats well against most other competition league wide.

They’re led offensively by Tyler Witzke, who’s recorded 10 goals and 18 points in 12 games this season. Witzke is one of nine players with KIJHL experience on the Thunder Cats roster, having recorded 44 points in 40 games last season with the T-Cats. He serves as the Captain, and has led by example along with defenseman Andrew Clark and forward Carson Small in the points category.

Offensively, the Thunder Cats seem to hang with a lot of teams, particularly in that tough division. By the looks of things, their minus-20 goal differential in particular, they may tend to get into a “run & gun” type of style that costs them goals against. They sit in the middle of the KIJHL pack in ‘Goals For’ statistics with 48, tied with Golden and Spokane at #11 in the 20 team league. The ‘Goals Against’ statistic, however, is the one that stands out. The T-Cats have given up 68 goals, which beats only Grand Forks (72) and Kamloops (78) at the bottom of the sorting order.

This doesn’t mean they can by any means be taken lightly. A team has to play smart, strong hockey if they want a chance to pick up a couple of points against a hard working T-Cats team, because there are certainly ways an offensively minded team will beat you if you let them.

That is especially true of the Thunder Cats, who have a goaltender in Calgary native Sam Burford who has occasion to ‘steal the show’ to go along with their offense. In 12 appearances this season, Burford has a 4-7 record. In his 4 wins, he’s stopped all but six of 167 shots, which leaves him with a goals against average just over 1 (1.04) and a save percentage over 96% in those games. Overall, Burford carries a 4.11 GAA and .902% save percentage, with large attribution to a pair of games against Kelowna and Kimberley where 10 goals and 7 goals were allowed, respectively.

Burford and his counterpart, Eric Samyn, have faced less than 30 shots just twice in the Creston goal in the team’s 16 games, which says (to me, at least) that as a team the Thunder Cats press forward a lot and might hang their back end ‘out to dry’ on occasion. There aren’t many easy nights in the Creston Valley crease, and Burford and Samyn have done well this season with such a high volume of shots against.

The Thunder Cats do a lot of their offensive damage, 35% of it in fact, on their power play. It’s been a bright spot for them this season, collecting 17 power play goals on 91 opportunities for an 18.68% conversion rate. That’s good for 8th in the league, HOWEVER, they’ve given up a league leading 9 shorthanded goals against so far in just 16 games. If there’s anything Summerland can take advantage of with the T-Cats, it’s that. Summerland’s power play sits 13th in the KIJHL, while their penalty kill is 16th across the 20 team league. If there’s one knock on the Summerland penalty kill it might be that they’re a little too aggressive, which actually may work in their favour against the T-Cats power play.

This will be the case for both games this weekend, as after the Creston Valley Thunder Cats visit on Friday, the 100 Mile House Wranglers come in for a visit on Saturday night. The Steam and the Wranglers locked up last weekend in the South Cariboo, with Garrett Hilton and the Wranglers coming away with a 5-0 victory. Hilton had a hat trick and a pair of assists to figure in on all five Wranglers’ goals in the win, while Daniel Allin made 35 saves. Allin, no longer with the Wranglers, signed with the Drumheller Dragons of the AJHL the day after that performance.

One thing you can guarantee from a Dale Hladun led Wranglers team is that they’ll work hard, and they’ll take a physical approach. They’ve got some size, grit and a whole bunch of skill, which has got them in 3-horse race at the top of the Doug Birks Division with Revelstoke and Sicamous. Revelstoke is the clear front-runner, but the rest remains up for grabs.

For the Steam it’s about keeping things simple this weekend. Stay out of the penalty box, move as a 5-man unit, and make the most of the opportunities created by sticking to the systems in place. They’ve played very well as of late, going 5-2-1-1 in the month of October, and will need to keep that roll going as they come into a tough part of the schedule on home ice through November. They’ll play 8 total home games in November, and see Creston, 100 Mile House, Kelowna, Osoyoos, Sicamous, Kimberley, 100 Mile House again, and Revelstoke at home. They’ll also travel to Chase in their only road game of the month.

It’s going to be a month that dictates a lot of what the standings will look like as we head down the stretch, and it’s going to be fun to watch a young Summerland team come together against some of the league’s top competition at the Summerland Arena.

Puck drop goes both Friday and Saturday from the Summerland Arena at 7:30pm, with the broadcast starting on playfullscreen.com with pre-game at 7:15pm.

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