January 24, 2019
Summerland, BC – With just ten games remaining on the regular season schedule for the Summerland Steam, all thoughts surround a strong finish and putting the finishing touches on preparations for the grueling playoff stretch on the horizon.
At 20-15-2-2 through 39 regular season games, the Steam sit firmly in second place in the Okanagan Division and can clinch their spot with any combination of wins and other team’s losing this weekend. The Kelowna Chiefs have clinched the division title for the first time since 2012/13 and just the second time in the franchise’s nine year history. Chiefs Head Coach Ken Law, meanwhile, has captured his fifth straight division title and is in search of his fourth top 2 finish in the league standings in the past five seasons. Law’s previous finishes of course came with his former team, the Osoyoos Coyotes, who the Steam take on Friday night at the Summerland Arena.
With a 14-21-2-1 the Coyotes occupy spot number three in the Okanagan Division standings with eleven games to play. They’re in a heated race with the North Okanagan Knights and the Princeton Posse for the final two playoff spots, and have a new face behind the bench once again.
Mark Chase, who was named the Head Coach and General Manager in the off-season as the replacement for the aforementioned Ken Law, was relieved of his duties on January 14th, one day after a 5-1 loss to the Knights in Oliver. Assistant Coach Dean Maynard was tapped with the ‘interim Head Coach’ tag at that time and he won his first game at the helm, 2-1 over the Kamloops Storm last Saturday night.
The 2018/19 Coyotes are the most inexperienced team in the KIJHL, having just four returning players from last year’s team including arguably their MVP this season, 20-year old goaltender Daniel Paul. They’re laden with 2000 and 2001 born players and have endured a steep learning curve throughout the regular season thus far. They’ve been solid at times, they’ve played poorly at times and have struggled to find consistency in their game. All of this is to be expected from a team as young as the Coyotes are, and they find themselves in a three-way dog fight for the final two playoff spots in the Okanagan Division with North Okanagan and Princeton.
One will play Kelowna, one will play Summerland and one won’t play at all beyond February 23rd, and the deciding of who’s who continues this weekend.
Osoyoos comes to Summerland Friday, and hosts Kelowna on Saturday. Princeton, meanwhile, visits North Okanagan on Friday night before coming to Summerland on Saturday. The Knights visit Kamloops on Saturday night.
This weekend will go a long way in deciding who’s got the upper hand on the third and fourth playoff spots.
Princeton comes in as a bit of an enigma as of late. They had a great weekend last weekend, blasting the Knights by a 9-1 score Friday night before taking the Kelowna Chiefs to overtime on Saturday, only to fall victim to the Brody Dale show. They then made a return trip to Kelowna on Tuesday night and were walloped by an 11-2 score. In that game Chiefs forward Ryan Stack set a new KIJHL league record with six goals in the game, the most any player has ever scored in a single KIJHL regular season game.
They’re 2-7-0-1 in their past ten games and looking for a spark after trading their top two offensive threats in Austin O’Neil (to North Okanagan) and Lane French (to Summerland) in late November and early December. O’Neil was averaging nearly a point per game (7g, 16 pts in 18 games) at the time of the trade, although only played a pair of games with the Knights before landing on their reserve roster. French was second on the team in scoring at the time of his trade, having netted 10 goals and 18 points in 26 games as the Posse’s captain to start 2018/19.
The Posse play a hard working, blue collar type game that requires teams to be on their toes at all times and never take a shift off. They’ve taken the Kelowna Chiefs, the league’s best team by a wide margin, to overtime twice (beating them once), while also beating playoff bound teams like Summerland, Fernie, and Columbia Valley to name a few.
“We’ll have to be on our toes, for sure,” Said Head Coach John DePourcq when asked about this weekend’s set, “Both of these teams are looking for playoff spots, they’ve got lots to play for, and I want our guys to understand that we do too. We have to focus on ourselves and execute our systems and our game plan, no matter who’s on the other bench, and I think that’s maybe gotten away from us a little bit lately.”
The Steam, of course, have all but clinched their spot in the KIJHL’s postseason, but DePourcq says that doesn’t matter.
“We’ve proven that we have no problem getting up for games against the Kelowna’s and the Revelstoke’s and the Kimberley’s,” Says Summerland’s Head Coach, “There’s absolutely no reason we aren’t doing the same for everybody else, and it’s something we have to work on as a group.”
One thing to watch out for, particularly on Friday night, will be the discipline of both teams. It’s no secret that it’s been a bit of a concern this season from a Summerland standpoint, as they lead the league in total penalty minutes by a fair number. The second team on that list, however, is the Coyotes who visit Friday. They trail the total penalty minute race by 30+. They have, however, been shorthanded six more times than the Steam this season, 250 to 246.
For the Steam they’ll go with 11 forwards on Friday night. The absence of Cairo Rogers and Everett Scherger leaves them a tad shorthanded up front, while the absence of Bevis Chou on the back end will draw affiliate player Josh Bourchier into the lineup for the second time in three contests.
Puck drop for both games at the Summerland Arena this weekend are 7:30pm, and can be found on playfullscreen.com with myself and Joel Barg. The Coastal Eye Clinic Pre-Game Show begins each night at 7:15, and we’ll try and have coaches comments from both sides prior to puck drop as well.