STEAM PUSHED TO BRINK BY RIVAL CHIEFS

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Photo: Jen Jensen Photography

March 13, 2019

Summerland, BC – Things change fast in the KIJHL Playoffs. There are so many games in such a short period of time that a team can go from an extreme high, back to reality, and through to the lowest of lows in the matter of just a few days. That’s the case for the Summerland Steam, who opened the Okanagan Division Final against the Kelowna Chiefs last Friday looking to do the unthinkable.

The Chiefs, who lost just three times in regulation and five times overall, were perhaps not expected to lose at all during the playoffs. They certainly weren’t expected to lose four times in seven games, but Summerland went into Rutland Arena looking to play the role of David to Kelowna’s proverbial Goliath. They were the only team to beat the Chiefs more than once this season, and were responsible for two of the three regulation losses suffered by the KIJHL Regular Season Champions.

They stormed into Rutland Arena for Game 1 and played a heavy, physical game that kept the Chiefs in check and saw them walk out with a 2-1 victory. Lane French and Cody Swan each scored for the Steam, while Jared Breitkreuz made 43 saves and was sensational in the victory. It wasn’t until Kayson Gallant scored a 6-on-4 power play goal in the final minute that the Chiefs were within one.

The Steam played the same way in Game 2, but found themselves on the wrong side of defeat to the tune of a 5-3 Kelowna victory to even the series at a game apiece.  Breitkreuz was again very good, but couldn’t hold off the Chiefs special teams as Summerland found themselves in some penalty trouble. Devin Sutton scored the winner for the Chiefs, as they would even the series heading back to Summerland for Games three and four.

As good as the Steam were in Rutland during the first two games the Chiefs came to Summerland with purpose, and started the Game Three onslaught in the first minute. Juanre Naude would open the scoring for the visitors, and Ryan Stack would add shortly after. The Chiefs would lead 4-0 lead after a period, and eventually pick up a 7-1 victory in a game that saw Summerland lose control of themselves and the series. They let the Chiefs power play run rampant and go 4-for-7, while also giving up a shorthanded goal for the second game in a row.

The Steam were not great on Monday night in Game 3, but they got better as the game went on. Lane French scored the only goal for the Steam while Breitkreuz took the loss in goal without much support from his teammates.

Things went from bad to worse for Summerland on Tuesday in Game 4, as they lost Okanagan Division Rookie of the Year and arguably their Playoff MVP Mitch Gove just sixteen seconds into the contest. Gove got tied up right off the opening draw with Chiefs defenseman Isaac Dutka, and both went to the ice. Dutka got up and skated off, but as Gove attempted to do the same he couldn’t. He was helped to the dressing room and eventually taken by paramedics to hospital with a leg injury that will sideline him indefinitely.

Without their top line right winger, Summerland did well to stay with the Chiefs early in Game 4. They got pucks deep, worked their forecheck well, and had a couple of chances early in the game to open the scoring. Unfortunately they couldn’t beat Braeden Mitchell in the Chiefs net, and Brody Dale would open the scoring at the other end on a pretty passing play late in the frame.

The goal seemed to slightly deflate the Steam, but they came again in the second period with the heavy forecheck and physical play in an attempt to generate chances. Nothing came close and the Chiefs were able to add to their lead, courtesy of defenceman Jordan Lowry, halfway through the second period. The “back breaker” in Game 4 for the Steam came late in the second period, a power play goal from Chiefs captain Tyler Love to put the Chiefs up 3-0 with 2:55 to go.

From there, all air seemed to come out of both the Steam and the Summerland Arena. The third period was very ho-hum, and the Chiefs would add a pair of late goals from Lane Paddison and Devin Sutton to inflate the score to 5-0. That’s how the game would finish, with Mitchell stopping 29 for his second shutout of the playoffs and giving the Chiefs a 3-1 stranglehold on the series.

In a nutshell, the Steam were not good enough in their pair of home games this past week. They struggled in their own zone and didn’t apply enough forward pressure to sustain a forecheck for the majority of either game. They also didn’t generate nearly enough scoring chances, which is a product of allowing the Chiefs to exit the zone too easily and come through the neutral zone with speed and numbers.

The set will now shift back to Rutland Arena for Game 5 on Thursday, and if Summerland wants to prolong this series they’re going to have to get back to exactly what they did in Game 1. They’re now up against the wall battling both the best team in the KIJHL and the injury bug, and will need their best and most concentrated effort of the season in Rutland on Thursday night for Game 5.

The bonus is they know how to win in Rutland. They’ve done it three times this year, and they’ll have to make it four if they want to force Game 6 Friday night at the Summerland Arena.

Puck drop for Game 5 goes at 7:00pm at Rutland Arena on Thursday so make the drive, or join Justin McCartney for the webcast on playfullscreen.com.

 

STEAM FINISH POSSE, SET UP OKANAGAN DIVISION CLASH OF TITANS

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Photo: Steve Dunsmoor | Dunsmoor Creative

March 6, 2019

Summerland, BC – For the fifth year in a row, the Summerland Steam and the Kelowna Chiefs will do battle in the postseason. Both teams booked their date with one another via a first round playoff win, with the Chiefs dispatching the Osoyoos Coyotes in four straight and the Steam taking down the Princeton Posse in five games.

The Steam needed one extra game, and with many of Kelowna’s coaching and front office staff in attendance at the Summerland Arena on Monday night, they showed a glimpse of their best in a 4-2 victory over the Posse in Game 5.

Mitch Gove (6,7) scored a pair of goals, bringing his total to seven in the first round. He leads the KIJHL Playoffs in goals through the first round of play. Former Princeton Posse captain Lane French (2) would score the winner in the second period, while Ty Banser  (2) scored the other.

Eric Scherger, who came on in relief in Game 1 and started Games 2, 3 and 4, was sidelined for Game 5. Jared Breitkreuz got the nod in goal and was very good, only allowing a pair of Posse power play goals. He put the exclamation point on the series with just under four minutes to play, making a ferocious glove save to bail his teammates out of a truly terrible defensive zone turnover.

After five games the Steam move on, and they managed to score 25 times in those five games. Here’s every goal, for and against, in the five game series with Princeton.

 

The Steam outscored the Posse 25-12 in the series, however, it didn’t always look so positive for them. After losing in overtime by a 7-6 score in Game 1, they arrived for Game 2 and promptly let the Posse take a 2-0 lead. They fought to get one back, but headed to the third period down a goal. Early in the third period, Princeton’s Colby Rhodes found himself with a breakaway. If Steam goaltender Eric Scherger doesn’t make this save, it’s a 3-1 Posse lead, and that might have been a backbreaker for Summerland. Scherger, however, came up huge when his team needed him most, and his forwards would reward him with five third period goals and a 6-2 victory to tie the series at 1.

This was NO DOUBT the turning point in the series, as the Steam would come back to win that game plus three more in a row to send the Posse to locker clean out day early. They got better as the series went on, and finally put three solid periods together for the first time in Game 5, just in time to face their fiercest rival in Round 2.

The Summerland Steam and the Kelowna Chiefs are more than well acquainted with one another. 2018/19 will be the fifth straight year the teams have met in the postseason, and including regular season match-ups Game 1 on Friday night will be playoff meeting #28 and overall match-up #66 during that time span. That’s a lot of hockey played between two teams and familiarity seems to breed contempt, so the two teams and their fan bases should be in for a fun ride over the next ten or so days.  All four previous playoff series’ have been competitive and borderline mean, and there’s no reason to believe this one will be any different. No series involving the two teams has gone any less than six games, with three of the four needing a Game 7 to declare a winner.

This season has been a little different than past. Historically the Steam and the Chiefs have finished in the 2vs3 matchup in the Okanagan Division Playoffs, and have generally been pretty evenly matched throughout. This season though, the Steam come in as the severe underdog. Yes, they finished second in the division while the Chiefs took the crown, but the Chiefs finished with just three regulation losses. Anyone who comes up against the Chiefs in the playoffs, save for maybe the Revelstoke Grizzlies, will be considered a major underdog. Summerland’s equalizer is that they’ve proven they know how to beat the Chiefs. They were responsible for two of Kelowna’s three regulation losses this season, and did so inside the not so friendly environment at Rutland Arena.

The bottom line is that this Chiefs team is GOOD. Very good. Quite possibly the best Junior B hockey team in Western Canada, and it’s going to be a tall task for the Summerland Steam to beat them more times in seven games than anybody did (in regulation) all season.

If the Steam want to be successful in this series they’ll need buy in from every single player on the roster. Not just on offense, and not just on defense, but in every zone on every shift. The minute teams get lazy and take shifts off is the minute the Chiefs offense will pounce. Kelowna’s offense remains one of the most impressive ever assembled, and they LOVE to score goals.

Brody Dale (123) and Zach Erhardt (101) both eclipsed the 100 point plateau, and four other Chiefs (Lane Paddison, Ryan Stack, Dylan Kent, and Devin Sutton) all sat in the top-12 in regular season scoring. Dale and Erhardt are the first to break 100 points in over six seasons in the KIJHL, and are complimented by high caliber teammates that make life difficult for opposing teams. The Chiefs offense led the league with 276 goals for (110 more than Summerland), but that’s not where they stop. They also gave up the third least goals against this season, with just 111 pucks getting past the tandem of Braeden Mitchell and Shane Zilka. Top to bottom they’re talented, and no matter who opposes them they’ll be the favourite on the road to the Cyclone Taylor Cup in Campbell River, BC in April.

Having said this, as good as the Chiefs are, the Steam have found a way to keep them quiet a couple of times this season. They were able to pick up a 7-2 win on December 1st and a 4-3 victory on January 12th, both at Rutland Arena, and will need to find that recipe again if they’re going to make this series a long one. That recipe includes finding the line of competitive physicality. That means getting in on the forecheck and getting physical in the corners without taking penalties. It’s winning puck battles and making sure there’s support on the ‘D’ side when the battle isn’t won. It’s also about finding second chance opportunities in front of the Chiefs’ net, knowing both of their goaltenders will likely make the first save.

All of that has to go right, and the visitor’s penalty box needs to remain empty if they’re going to have any success against a potent Chiefs team that can run up a score in a serious hurry. The video has been watched, the drills have been run, and it’s time to get ready for Round 2.

Game 1 goes Friday night at Rutland Arena for a 7:00pm puck drop. If you can’t make the drive, join my broadcast colleague, Justin McCartney, for one of the best broadcasts in the league on playfullscreen.com.

Schedule:

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Joel and I will be back on air Monday, March 11th at 7:15pm for the Coastal Eye Clinic Pre-Game Show ahead of a 7:30 puck drop for Game 3 of the Okanagan Division Final.

 

 

STEAM TAKE STRANGLEHOLD WITH TWO ROAD WINS

📸 Tami Quan Photography

MARCH 4, 2019

SUMMERLAND, BC – After a less than ideal outcome in Game 1 of their series with the Princeton Posse, the Summerland Steam needed a bounce back victory to avoid going to Princeton down 2-0 in their best of 7 series. At the outset, the Steam knew they would have to be good in their own zone if they wanted an opportunity to beat a 3rd seeded Posse team who’ve played well down the stretch. They came up with a big 6-2 victory, splitting the first two games with Princeton and sending the series back to the Similkameen Valley.

The series shifted to the Princeton & District Arena this past weekend, where games 3 & 4 were well attended by Posse faithful. A total of 550 loud, boisterous fans packed the small Princeton and District Arena over two nights, and saw two quality hockey games for their hard earned money. Unfortunately, the large crowds were sent home quiet as Summerland was able to sweep both games and come home for Game 5 Monday night with a 3-1 stranglehold on the series.

Mitch Gove led the way for the Steam offensively, scoring four times in two games while Cody Swan, Cory Loring, Linden Gove (x2), and Morey Babakaiff also scored for the visitors on Friday and Saturday nights. Scores were 4-2 (Game 3) and 5-1 (Game 4) in favour of the Steam, who look to close things out on Monday night at home. Eric Scherger won both in the Summerland goal, stopping 49 of 52 shots the Posse sent his way throughout the pair of games.

Summerland, for the most part, did a great job in the defensive zone limiting turnovers and second chance opportunities for the Posse. They were able to put pucks deep behind the Posse defense and let their forecheck do the heavy lifting, and it created chances in the offensive zone. Princeton attempted to use the stretch pass to their advantage in their home rink and while it worked a handful of times, the Steam were able to defend it well and not allow too many odd-man rushes.

Throughout this series, the Steam have gotten contributions from up and down the lineup. The line of Ty Banser, Zack Cooper, and Cory Loring has emerged as a line that Head Coach John DePourcq has used not only as a defensive shutdown line, but a line that’s continued to drive possession into the offensive zone. They’ve really found some chemistry with one another, and it’s paying off with each contributing in all three zones through the first four games.

Banser in particular has played an expanded role in the defensive zone and in the faceoff circle, with the absence of Steam captain Everett Scherger. Scherger, who was sent to hospital after the final regular season game on February 23rd, has resumed activity but is still a big question mark for the Steam as these playoffs roll on.

As for Game 5, it’s going to be important for the Steam to get off to a good start and continue to roll with the momentum gained with big wins in games three and four. The team will get Liam McLaren back tonight, while the Posse will get Terrence Josephson back in their lineup as well. Both should be energized after missing the past two games due to suspensions picked up in Game 2. McLaren received 5 and a game for Checking From Behind, while Josephson received 5 and a game for a hit to the head just :17 seconds later.

Summerland will look to close and punch their ticket to Round 2 where the Kelowna Chiefs await, while the Princeton Posse will try to stave off elimination and force Game 6 Tuesday in Princeton. Puck drop goes at 7:30pm on Monday night, and the Steam have offered $5 Student Tickets to tonight’s game. Any high school students from Summerland and the surrounding area can get in for $5 simply by showing their Student ID!

For those who can’t be in attendance, the webcast will be available with Joel Barg and myself starting with the Coastal Eye Clinic Pre-Game Show at 7:15pm.