January 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. 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.