Steam, Posse Ready For Playoff Preview Friday Night

rivalry renewedJanuary 23, 2020

Summerland, BC – When you look back at all the ‘monumental’ divisional games in the nine year history of the Summerland Steam franchise, you can’t help but think of the Osoyoos Coyotes and the Kelowna Chiefs as the opponents. There’s been some epic battles at the top of the division involving the three South Okanagan teams, usually resulting in some fun, exciting hockey games that have just the right amount of nasty. Not often has it been the Similkameen Valley dwelling Princeton Posse, but things do tend to change over time.

There’s always been an underlying rivalry between Summerland and Princeton, as there is with any two teams that play 6-8 times during the regular season. The playoffs, however, seem to be where the fiercest of rivalries take shape, and that story began last spring when the Steam dispatched of the Posse in the first ever playoff series between the two franchises. It was fast, it saw good goaltending at both ends of the ice, and resulted in a Summerland series win in 5 games.

The playoff appearance for the Posse was their first since the 2012/13 season, and under Head Coach Mark McNaughton they’ve been able to build around a solid combination of veteran players and stellar goaltending to push towards the postseason for the second straight year in 2019/20. This time though, they’ve got their sights set on home-ice advantage and perhaps even a division title. They currently sit seven points back of the division leading Kelowna Chiefs, six points clear of the Steam in third place, and have guaranteed themselves no lower than the third seed when the playoffs begin in late February.

In two previous meetings so far during the 2019/20 KIJHL season the Steam and the Posse have split a pair of games, each winning on home ice. With four meetings to go, playoff seeding for the 2019/20 KIJHL Playoffs may just come down to these four head-to-head contests to decide who’s seeded where when Game 1 comes around. The team with the most points out of these remaining head-to-head matches may just be the benefactor of home ice advantage in what looks to surely be a first round playoff match-up for a second straight year.

As teams learn around playoff time, home ice advantage means much more than one would think. Particularly when you’re talking about Princeton, the Posse will surely do all that’s in their power to start on home ice due to the nuances their home rink provides. They’re used to it, and teams hate playing in it.

The Princeton & District Arena poses many challenges for KIJHL hockey. It’s cold, it’s dark, and it’s small. The usually full stands are right on top of the benches and ice surface, and it creates an atmosphere that can sometimes be unkind to visitors. It’s a retro era arena with a small ice surface, particularly small neutral zone, and square corners that nobody wants to go into.

The Posse have traditionally loved playing in their home rink, and have caught many teams off guard by playing a quick transition style on a small ice surface that allows them to create odd-man rushes. Nothing about it is friendly to the visitors from the dressing rooms to the benches, penalty boxes, and of course the ice surface as a whole.

That’s why it’ll be imperative for the Steam to try and do all THEY can do to pick up wins in their remaining divisional games and gain home ice advantage for the first round of the KIJHL Playoffs.

Both the Steam and the Posse have found their groove in the month of January. The Posse are winners of seven of their last ten contests, including a 4-3 overtime win in a makeup game in 100 Mile House on Tuesday night.

They’ve been getting quality goaltending from 20-year old University of Jamestown commit Jaysen MacLean and goaltending partner Scott Bird, and have (maybe sneakily) one of the league’s leading scorers in Brendan Adams. Adams, along with teammates Aubrey McLeod and Terrence Josephson have been lighting it up for the Posse lately, providing a lion’s share of the offense during their recent run of great results.ย Adams has five goals and 18 points during that stretch, while McLeod has six goals and 13 points. Josephson, the third member of the Posse’s top scoring trio, has nine assists.

The key to the Posse attack comes from their defense, and the key ability to get pucks moving forward. The likes of team captain Noah Brusse, a third year member of the Posse, and former Summerland Steam defenceman Bevis Chou help the Posse immensely by making a good first pass. They do all things with speed, which makes stopping them a tall task.

As for the Steam, they’re coming off a weekend sweep of the Osoyoos Coyotes and Kelowna Chiefs by 5-3 and 4-3(OT) scores, while being without their three top scorers. They showed incredible depth and perseverance, particularly on Saturday night against the division’s top team, to come from behind and find a way to win. They did so in both games, trailing 3-1 on both nights before mounting comebacks to pickup four points.

The additions in December of Matthew Byrne, Ethan McLaughlin and Liam McLaren, all from the AJHL’s Drayton Valley Thunder have bolstered what was an already deep lineup for a Steam squad who’s much better than their record would indicate. Byrne’s been nothing short of a scoring machine since his arrival, notching eight goals and 12 points in 10 games, while McLaren has added a physical element to the team while also piling on points. He’s been a point per game player, two goals and eight points in seven games so far, playing on a line with Morey Babakaiff that’s become really tough to play against. McLaughlin, meanwhile, has stepped in on defense and solidified the group for Head Coach Ken Karpuk, collecting five assists in 11 contests while playing top pair minutes and quarterbacking a power play unit.

The arrival of the three from Junior A, as well as the return of Jordon Woytas from a lower body injury sustained on the opening weekend of the season has allowed the Steam to find some line combinations that work well together. More importantly, it’s allowed them a little more structure, and that’s showing in their defensive game. Set aside a pair of 6-3 defeats a couple of weekends ago, and the Steam have been much improved in the defensive zone since the holiday break. They’re getting quality goaltending on most nights, and have had better success clearing their zone on the first attempt in recent outings.

They’ll get Lane French and likely Austin O’Neil back for Friday’s match against their former team, but will likely be without captain Cody Swan as well as forward Ty Banser. Swan has missed the past two weeks with an upper body injury, while Banser is considered day-to-day with an upper body injury as well.

Puck drop on Friday’s divisional heater goes at 7:30pm from the Summerland Arena. Tickets are just $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors, and $25 for Families of 3-6 (Up to 2 adults, 4 kids).

On Saturday the Steam will make a return trip to Sicamous to face the Eagles for the final time this season. They’ll surely be out for a better result than the 6-3 defeat suffered on January 11th.

 

Steam Produce 4-Point Weekend Against Division Rivals

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Photo: Chris Swan

January 22, 2020

Summerland, BC – With their eyes on securing a post-season birth and working towards home ice advantage, the Summerland Steam set out last weekend looking for four points in a pair of divisional games. At this time of year, these divisional games play a major role in deciding seeding for the KIJHL playoffs, and the Steam found themselves on the right end of a pair of games against the Osoyoos Coyotes and Kelowna Chiefs.

They hosted the Coyotes on Friday at the Summerland Arena, looking to make the Coyotes playoffs hopes more of a pipe dream than a possibility. Nine points behind the fourth place North Okanagan Knights, the Coyotes have to try and find a way to make up some ground if they’re going to participate in the 2020 KIJHL Playoffs. They’ve got a kit if ground to make up in a short period of time, and heading into the weekend it looked like a possibility if they could pick up a couple of wins.

Summerland wanted to ensure they did all they could to prevent it, and it ended up working out well for them despite a bit of a slow start.

Those Coyotes are a pesky bunch who’ve got plenty of fight left in them, and they found themselves with a 2-0 lead early in the first period. Dylan Stevenson and Seth Kriese each tallied a goal for the ‘Yotes, before Austin O’Neil found the back of the net with a pinball shot to cut the lead in half near the midway mark of the first period.

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Tyler Russell would notch his first as a Coyote before the end of the period, a frame that saw the Coyotes feeling pretty good heading to the dressing room with a 3-1 lead. They hung with the Steam for the first period, and found the difference on the scoreboard by simply capitalizing on their chances.

In the second, however, it was Summerland’s turn to capitalize. Matthew Byrne would score his 6th of the season on a power play, racing down the right wing and beating Coyotes’ goaltender Curt Doyle through the wickets to cut the lead to a single goal. Byrne, playing in just his 9th game for the Steam since joining the club in December, has found some chemistry with linemates Morey Babakaiff and Liam McLaren, as well as finding a solid role as a trigger man on the Summerland power play.

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Austin O’Neil would then score his second of the night and 10th of the season a couple of minutes later to tie the game at three. A good low point shot from Ryan Allen found it’s way to the front of the net, where a rebound fell right to O’Neil at the right post for a tap in. Mitch Gove would draw the secondary assist on the goal that tied the game at 3.

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The teams would go to the second intermission locked in a tie, and it would stay that way until the midpoint of the third period. As Summerland continued to put pucks on Curt Doyle, it looked as though Doyle was going to be the X-Factor in getting the Coyotes at least one, if not two points. The Steam finally broke through with 10:59 to play in the third period, as Ty Banser found his way to the front of the net and benefited from good work below the goal line by his linemates. Austin O’Neil and Mitch Gove would both draw assists on Banser’s 7th of the season as he found a puck in the slot and ripped a backhand high over the glove of Doyle to give the Steam a 4-3 lead.

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It would stand to be the game winner, with many thanks to Steam goaltender Eric Scherger. Scherger made 14 saves in the third period, eleven of them in the final nine minutes, to preserve what would turn into a 5-3 Steam victory after an empty net tally by Morey Babakaiff.

Babakaiff’s 18th of the season came shorthanded, while the Steam were killing a penalty in the final 1:45 of regulation.

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The win propelled Summerland into their Saturday night game with some confidence. They headed north to play their biggest rival, the Kelowna Chiefs, for the third and final time at Rutland Arena this season. With some franchise history on the line, the night began much like the night before, with the opposition scoring early.

Myles Mattilla would open the scoring for the hometown Chiefs midway through the first period, finding room down the right side and beating Scherger from a sharp angle to give the home team a 1-0 lead.

Despite the goal and being outshot 10-2, the Steam controlled their share of zone time early in the hockey game, and were able to finally get on the board with their third shot of the game just 1:16 after the Chiefs got on the board.

Sometimes when you’re missing your top three scorers (Cody Swan, Lane French, Austin O’Neil) like the Steam were on Saturday, the offense has to come from some unfamiliar places. It doesn’t get any more unfamiliar than a goal from 20-year old defender Ante Mustapic, who until Saturday night hadn’t scored a goal in over four calendar years.

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His last came December 10, 2015 as a member of the then Langley Knights (now Surrey Knights), and he was just as surprised as anyone that he tallied another on Saturday. After good work down low the puck cycled out to the right point, where Mustapic put a shot towards goal. It’s unknown whether it took a deflection on the way in, but the puck hit the right post, and then Chiefs goaltender Braeden Mitchell in the back, before travelling across the goal line to tie the game at 1.

Kelowna’s Blaine Worthing would then capitalize on a power play with 4:48 to play in the first period, giving the Chiefs their lead back. After Mitch Gove was assessed a big boom penalty (charging, according to the referee), the Chiefs went to work on the power play. Worthing was able to get in the kitchen of Eric Scherger, and put a puck home as he was falling on top of the Summerland goaltender to give the Chiefs their lead.

They’d go to the break with the lead, and then add to it in the second period thanks to a goal from rookie Logan Keating. After a rush up ice by the Steam, the Chiefs came back the other way with numbers. Keating, coming down the right side, looked for streaking defenseman Jordan Lowry for a back-door tap in. Instead, the pass deflected off the skate of a Summerland defender and behind Scherger to extend the Chiefs lead to 3.

It was evident that the Steam were going to have to work hard to find their way back in, and they were able to do so just like the night before. Some good work on a forecheck by Zack Cooper produced their second goal of the night, as Ethan Grover made a nice move in front for his third of the season. The goal came with 12:12 to play in the second period, getting the visiting Steam back to within a goal.

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The score would hold through the second, and set up a comeback attempt late in the third for a Steam squad who worked their tails off to keep the game tied. As time began to get scarce, it looked as though the Chiefs may skate away with their first home ice win against the Steam in three attempts this season. Thanks to Steam forward Matthew Byrne, it wasn’t going to be easy for them.

With 1:24 to play in the third period, Byrne tied the game with his 7th of the season as he beat Mitchell high over the blocker from the right wing side. Ethan McLaughlin started the play from behind the Summerland net, finding Morey Babakaiff on the left wing side. Having to take the puck on his backhand, Babakaiff swept the puck cross ice to open space for Byrne to skate on to. He did so, beating a Kelowna defender wide and firing a shot cross-net into the far side top corner to tie the game at 3.

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As overtime loomed, the Steam had successfully secured five of a possible six points on the road against Kelowna this season. They were looking for all six, to make it the first time in franchise history they would be able to sweep a season series against a team coached by Ken Law.

Eric Scherger was forced to make a couple of key saves early in overtime, including a point blank stop on Chiefs forward Ryan Antonakis to have the game continue on. Not long after that save was made, a good forecheck from the Steam resulted in a power play after Jordan Lowry tripped up Mitch Gove below the goal line.

The power play wouldn’t last long, as off the opening face-off Gove retrieved a puck and found McLaughlin at the point. As Summerland got to their spots, McLaughlin found Gove on the right flank, who went through the Kelowna Chiefs PK triangle to find Matthew Byrne. He one-timed a puck into the top corner, his 8th of the season in just 10 games, to send the Steam to victory.

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The four points are huge in the Bill Ohlhausen Division Standings. It sends them 12 points clear of the fourth place North Okanagan Knights, and kept them just four points behind the second place Princeton Posse who they see this coming Friday.

The Posse used one of two games in hand on Tuesday night in 100 Mile House, beating the Wranglers 4-3 in overtime to continue their streak of great results. They’ve won seven of their last ten games, and come into the Summerland Arena holding a six point edge in the standings.

Keep your eyes peeled for a preview of Friday’s game sometime Thursday or Friday morning!

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Steam Looking to Bounce Back In Divisional Weekend

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Photo: Chris Swan

January 17, 2020

Summerland, BC – Heading into a set of games last weekend against the Revelstoke Grizzlies and the Sicamous Eagles on the road, the Summerland Steam were playing great hockey. They’d won five of their previous seven, and were finally healthy and finding some traction.

They headed for snowy Revelstoke on Friday with their health again dwindling. Team captain Cody Swan missed both games last weekend, just his second and third absences from the Steam lineup in three full seasons, due to an upper body injury. They were also without Mitch Gove, who was with the West Kelowna Warriors on an Affiliate Player assignment.

The weekend trip resulted in a pair of 6-3 losses, to Revelstoke on Friday and to the Sicamous Eagles on Saturday. Ty Banser (5), Liam McLaren (2) and Austin O’Neil (8) scored goals for the Steam on Friday, while a hat-trick and 4 points for Revelstoke defenseman Brendan Vulcano was the undoing of what was a pretty good effort despite the loss.

Saturday saw some things that I’ve never seen in my 7 years covering the league. Summerland began the game dominantly, owning possession time and shot share through the first 13 minutes. A power play goal from Sicamous’ Trevor Ebeling with 6:04 remaining in the first period was the beginning of an avalanche that undid the Summerland Steam. The Eagles scored three times in 39 seconds to jump to a 3-0 lead before the end of the first period.

To start the second, a dump in off the stick of Sicamous’ James Pedersen from the centre ice line found it’s way into the net via maybe the nastiest hop possible to make it 4-0.

Summerland did well to fight back, but couldn’t get close enough to tie the score. Morey Babakaiff (18) and Ty Banser (6) each scored to close the gap to 4-2, but the Eagles would get two late ones to regain their four goal lead.

Matthew Byrne would close out the scoring with his 5th of the season and 9th point in just his 8th game to round out the score in another 6-3 defeat.

With games against the Doug Birks Division teams dwindling, there’s never been a time in their history the Steam have been happier to see the last of them. They haven’t fared well against teams from the North end of the Okanagan/Shuswap Conference this season, collecting a 2-8-0-2 record with three games left to play. They’ll see each of Chase (road), Sicamous (road) and 100 Mile House (Home) one more time to close out their inter-division schedule.

It’s been the exact opposite inside their own division so far, and that’s good news with all but three of their remaining 12 games being played against divisional opponents. They’ve gone 9-4-0-1 against the likes of Kelowna, Princeton, North Okanagan and Osoyoos this season, and their success will have to continue if they want to be in the fight for home-ice advantage of any kind in the playoffs.

They’ll start their final trek through their own division this weekend, seeing their two closest geographical rivals in Osoyoos and Kelowna. Two teams at the opposite end of the Bill Ohlhausen Division Standings, the Osoyoos Coyotes and Kelowna Chiefs pose two very different tests for the Summerland Steam. The Coyotes, an extremely young hockey team with a young new coach are working to find their way as they hold onto their last grasps of playoff hope.

They’ve won just seven games this season, but four have come in their past ten contests. That includes a weekend sweep of Chase (2nd in Doug Birks Division) and Beaver Valley (2nd in Neil Murdoch Division) just prior to their holiday break. They currently sit nine points behind the 4th place North Okanagan Knights in the division standings, and hold two games in hand. The bottom line for the Coyotes is if they want to try to make the playoffs, they’ve got to pick up some points and they’ve got to start doing that ASAP.

The Kelowna Chiefs, meanwhile, have had smooth sailing at the top of the division from the very beginning of the KIJHL Regular Season. A veteran laden lineup full of returnees has propelled them to the top spot, although they’ve stumbled to a 5-4-1-0 record in their past ten contests.

Summerland has had great games against both division rivals this season, holding a 3-0-0-1 record against the Coyotes who they’ll see Friday, and a 2-1 record against the Kelowna Chiefs, whom they pay their final visit to on Saturday night at Rutland Arena.ย They’ll have to do so without Lane French, who will miss both weekend games due to suspension. Cody Swan is also questionable for the weekend set as he deals with an upper body injury.

Puck drop on Friday night’s game at the Summerland Arena goes at 7:30pm against the Osoyoos Coyotes, while the Steam will visit the Kelowna Chiefs Saturday night at 7:00pm at Rutland Arena.

 

Steam Solid in Weekend Sweep

January 9, 2020

Summerland, BC – The Summerland Steam began the 2020 portion of their schedule this past weekend with a new outlook. They’re healthy, they’re rested and they’re ready to make a run to the KIJHL Playoffs beginning in the final week of February.

Their post-holiday schedule began this past weekend with a pair of games against the Osoyoos Coyotes and Chase Heat. The Coyotes came to Summerland on Friday night playing much better hockey of late under a new Head Coach. A wildly entertaining hockey game saw the action go back and forth before Summerland came away with a full-value 4-2 victory.

The Coyotes would open the scoring, taking advantage of a turnover at the Summerland blue line just 1:07 into the hockey game. Dylan Stevenson picked off a clearing pass and found teammate Brendan Moseley in front of the Summerland goal. Moseley showed great patience and knew he had time, dragging the puck around a surprised Darby Tipton for his 12th of the season.

The Coyotes would take that lead to the dressing room after an impressive first period from goaltender Curt Doyle. The Steam were solid, but found themselves down a goal thanks to brilliant goaltending from the 20-year old netminder.

Summerland would break through in the second period, tying the game on a power play with just under four minutes gone. The combination of Lane French, Ethan McLaughlin and Lane French worked the puck along the blue line for Summerland’s power play. Gove set McLaughlin up for a one timer, and a rebound fell to Cody Swan at the right post where he put home his 19th of the season. It would stand as the only goal of the second period, and the teams would head to the third tied at one goal apiece.

The tie wouldn’t last long, however, as the Steam found a way to break it early in the third period thanks to the recently returned Liam McLaren. McLaren would tally his first of the season as he received a pass from Matthew Byrne in the slot and deposited it through the five-hole of Curt Doyle to give the Steam the lead.

After the Coyotes tied the game again, the Steam once again took the lead. This time it was for good, as Lane French would pot his 10th of the season that stood as the game winner. After a good breakout, Mitch Gove sent a cross-ice pass onto the tape of French, who made no mistake going over the glove hand of Doyle and into the top corner to give Summerland a 3-2 lead.

Gove would then deposit a puck into an empty net in the final minute to seal the Steam a 4-2 victory, launching them into a road tilt the next night in Chase with some confidence.

In that game, the confidence showed from the start. From goaltender Eric Scherger forward, another solid 60-minute effort earned the Steam a convincing 4-1 victory over the Doug Birks Division’s 2nd place team. Scherger was brilliant, holding his team in on the road through 20-minutes to a 0-0 score while the found their legs and got comfortable at the Art Holding Memorial Arena.

They were outshot in the first period by a 16-7 margin, but stuck to their system and got their feet underneath them enough to make a push in the second period. Morey Babakaiff would open the scoring as the second period neared it’s halfway point, converting on a pretty 3-way passing play that left him alone with Chase Heat goaltender and (in my opionion) MVP Vince Benedetto.

Liam McLaren started the play by doing what he does best, loosening a puck on the half-wall with a bone jarring hit. He was able to shovel the puck down the wall to Matthew Byrne, who found Babakaiff alone in front of Benedetto with a pass on the tape. Babakaiff made no mistake, dragging the puck around the sprawling Chase goaltenderย  for his 17th of the season.

It would stand as the only goal of the second period, and the Steam moved to the third looking to add. Mitch Gove scored his sixth of the season just six minutes into the period to extend the lead to 2-0. After a solid back-check produced a turnover, Gove raced up ice and sent a pass to the left wing for Lane French. French sped around a defender and found himself alone with Benedetto, who made the first stop. Gove followed up nicely to deposit the rebound into the empty cage to extend Summerland’s lead on the road.

Stymied on his first attempt at goal, Lane French would then get in on the scoring action to stretch Summerland’s lead to 3-0 with just over six minutes remaining. After good work in the offensive zone by he and linemates Cody Swan and Mitch Gove, French was able to find another rebound and bury his 11th of the year.

Matthew Byrne would cap off the scoring on the Summerland side of the sheet just over three minutes later, finding a loose puck and again putting home a rebound. His fourth of the season in just his sixth game closed the scoring for the Steam, although newly acquired Cameron MacKenzie would score for Chase to break the shutout bid from Eric Scherger with 2:08 to play.

4-1 winners on Saturday night in Chase, the Steam now prepare for another Doug Birks Division road trip. This coming weekend they’ll head to Revelstoke (Friday) and Sicamous (Saturday) looking to extend their run of solid play. They’ve won two in a row and five of their past seven games, and are finally starting to find some traction after going through one of the nastiest injury stretches possible through the first three months of the season.

With four solid forward lines and eight defensemen, the Steam are in good position to become cohesive as a group and become a team that people really don’t want to play against. That has to be the case if they want to make up some ground and find their way into one of the top two spots in the division in order to start the playoffs on home ice.

Puck drop for both of this weekend’s games go at 7:00pm, and will be available on playfullscreen.com, the official broadcast partner of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.

 

Steam Trade Loring to Cyclone Host Wranglers

THANK YOU, CORY!

Base Image: Tami Quan Photography

 

January 9th, 2020

Summerland, BC – The Summerland Steam have announced a trade ahead of the January 10th trading deadline, sending forward Cory Loring (’99) to the 100 Mile House Wranglers in exchange for Future Considerations.

Loring, a 20-year old from Williams Lake, BC, spent parts of three seasons with the Steam and was a popular figure in a dressing room full of long-time teammates. In all, Loring played 95 games with the Steam, collecting 33 goals and 83 points while playing all three forward positions in all situations.

He will return to the Cariboo and be as close to home as one can be in the KIJHL, just an hour from his friends and family in Williams Lake. He joins the Cyclone Taylor Cup Host Wranglers for their stretch drive as they fight for positioning in a tough Doug Birks Division. The Wranglers currently sit third with a 15-15-1-0 record, and will count on Cory to provide veteran leadership and an offensive spark as they make their run to hosting the Cyclone Taylor Cup from April 16-19, 2020 at the South Cariboo Rec Centre.ย 

The Summerland Steam organization wishes to thank Cory for his efforts both on and off the ice during his time in Summerland, and wish him all the best in his future endeavors including hockey and beyond.

Steam Prep for Coyotes as Final Stretch Begins

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Photo: Chris Swan

January 1, 2020

Summerland, BC – For the Summerland Steam, there’s nothing more exciting than the calendar year flipping to 2020. They hope it will bring the health and prosperous results that they’ve been seeking since September, having lost nearly 120 man-games to injury in their 33 games so far this season. They’ve managed to stay afloat despite the constant shuttle of bodies in and out of the lineup, collecting a record of 14-15-0-4 and 32 points while only having two players (Cody Swan, Tyson Conroy) play all 33 games. It’s good enough to have them sitting comfortably in the third spot in the Bill Ohlhausen Division, 2 points back of the second place Princeton Posse and eight points clear of the fourth place North Okanagan Knights.

After a 4-1 loss in Kamloops on December 20th, the Steam have spent the past 10-days with their families recharging the batteries. They’ve returned to Summerland ready for their stretch run to the playoffs with 16 games to go in their 49 game schedule. They’ll have a good chance to make up some ground and try to gain home ice advantage in the playoffs with a lot of meaningful games left to play.

Of the remaining 16 games, nine come inside the division against the Kelowna Chiefs (3), Osoyoos Coyotes (3) and Princeton Posse (3). All of those become ‘four point games’ now, and the Steam are finally healthy enough to build some chemistry and really get things going. The line of Morey Babakaiff, Austin O’Neil and Mitch Gove has been electric since Gove’s return from injury, while the ever steady Cody Swan has continued to put up points alongside linemate Lane French. Both lines have been good in their time together this season, but sometimes have been counted on a little too often due to the injury situation the Steam have been dealing with for nearly four months.

They’ve been bolstered recently by not only the return of Jordon Woytas who missed nearly 3 months with a lower body injury, but the addition of three players on return from the AJHL’s Drayton Valley Thunder. In the last four weeks the Steam have been able to add local (Penticton, BC) products Ethan McLaughlin and Matthew Byrne to the roster, as well as seeing the return of former Steam forward Liam McLaren on December 20th. All add to what is now incredible depth that Summerland possesses when fully healthy, and should all contribute in very different ways down the stretch for a team vying for home ice advantage in round 1 of the KIJHL playoffs.

The team as a whole has been playing (mostly) good hockey despite the injuries all season long, and in my opinion deserves a better record than they’ve accumulated as the calendar turns to 2020. When healthy the offense should be second to none in the KIJHL, and some in-season additions have bolstered the defensive unit and will make the Steam an extremely tough out when they’re playing their best hockey. From the goal crease on out the team is built with the depth to match any team in the league, and will be able to win in many different ways.

They’ll start their post-Christmas schedule on Friday, January 3rd when the Osoyoos Coyotes and former Steam Assistant Coach Carter Rigby come to town. The upstart Coyotes have won five of their last ten under their new coaching tandem of Rigby and Grant Williams. Williams was originally named the interim Head Coach of the franchise after it and then coach Dean Maynard parted ways in late November. Rigby was brought in to aid Williams and spent a couple of games on the Coyotes’ bench before the roles reversed and he took the reins.

The teams have seen each other three times early in this KIJHL season, with the Steam picking up five of a possible six points in three hockey games that were extremely fun to watch. The key for the Steam, as it always seems to be, is to stay at even strength and use their strengths to exploit the weaknesses of their opponents. This means use speed through the neutral zone to create both hard forechecking opportunities as well as chances off the rush.

The Coyotes have been playing great hockey lately, picking up a pair of wins over the Chase Heat and Beaver Valley Nitehawks at home before an extended 13 day holiday break. They returned from the break on December 27th to start a home & home with the Kelowna Chiefs, losing both and being outscored 10-2. 5-5 in their last 10, they’ve fought their way back into the Bill Ohlhausen Division playoff race, sitting just seven points back of the fourth place North Okanagan Knights.

Their backbone has been goaltender Curt Doyle, who’s been nothing short of spectacular for the Coyotes since his acquisition in early October. He’s allowed a young hockey team in front of him to work through some mistakes by keeping them in games, and it’s beginning to pay off in the results category.

They’re coming off a December that saw them go 3-4, and will be excited to try and get their new Head Coach a win in his old stomping grounds on Friday night. Puck drop is at 7:30pm from the Summerland Arena, and tickets are just $10 at the door for adults, $8 for students/seniors and Family Packs are just $25!