Summerland, BC – For the first time this season, the Summerland Steam came away from a set of weekend games with no points. After two big wins last weekend and the resulting suspensions that followed Saturday night’s 4-3 win in Revelstoke, one would have assumed a shorthanded Steam squad would be in tough against a couple of upstart opponents.


Although the Kamloops Storm and the North Okanagan Knights sat fourth in their respective divisions heading into the weekend, both teams have seen marked improvement in their play. They’ve done some tinkering both in their player personnel and in North Okanagan’s case their coaching staff as well, and both teams are looking to climb the standings.


Summerland climbed on the bus on Friday and headed for Kamloops Memorial Arena, where they found themselves a little snake-bitten in a 3-2 defeat.


“Swanny’s line (Cody Swan, Mitch Gove, Lane French) could have had five goals,” Said Assistant Coach Tim Mills pre-game on Saturday, “Just one of those nights”


Eric Scherger was again tapped to start for the third straight game after a quality weekend against Kelowna and Revelstoke last weekend. He was solid once again, although this time taking defeat while making 33 saves.


Brett Mero opened the scoring for the Storm on the power play with his eighth goal of the season with just over 7:00 to play in the first period. It would stand as the only goal of the frame before the Storm would add a shorthanded goal early in the second. Theran Kincross would be the beneficiary of a good skill play from Chris Thon as he crossed up a Summerland defender before sliding the puck through to Kincross. The latter made no mistake, moving to the backhand and sliding the puck through the five-hole to extend the Storm lead to 2-0.


Ryan Allen would cut the deficit to just one with his third of the season just over a minute later. Camped out in front of the goal on the Summerland power play, Allen was able to slide a rebound past Storm goaltender Ethan Paulin-Hatch to cut the score to 2-1 in Kamloops’ favour.


Lane French would then score his first as a member of the Summerland Steam and 11th of the season with 9:21 to play in the second period to tie the game at two. French set up on the right wing half wall and cashed in on another Summerland power play, firing a laser of a shot to the blocker side of Paulin-Hatch.


The winning salvo would come shortly after the Steam tied the game at two, courtesy a goal from Kamloops’ James Lalikeas with 5:00 to play. Lalikeas’ 12th of the season would stand as the winner, despite Summerland’s best efforts.


The Steam would send 16 third period shots the way of Ethan Paulin-Hatch, but were unable to beat him to tie the game at three. They would come home suffering a 3-2 defeat, and regroup to take on the North Okanagan Knights on Saturday night.


“It obviously wasn’t our best effort of the season,” Said Assistant Coach Carter Rigby in his pre-game coaches comments on Saturday, “It’s tough when you’re down to three lines there and you get into some penalty trouble a little bit. We’ve got some young guys playing more than they’re used to and you don’t have the benefit of last change on the road so you can’t play the match-up game maybe as well as you’d like to. I expected them to be a little tired with guys out of the lineup and guys having to step up and play in roles maybe they’re not used to, but that’s how you build a team up and that’s how you learn.”


When asked about the Knights, Rigby had this to say:


“I’m sure they’ll be ready to go, obviously. They’ve got Dean McAmmond behind the bench now and I’m sure he gave them a bit of an earful after that loss last night (9-1 in Princeton). I’m sure they’re adjusting to a new coach and a new system, obviously, and I’m sure they’ll be ready to go.”


The Knights, under new Head Coach Dean McAmmond, were 5-1 winners last Sunday in Oliver against the Osoyoos Coyotes, but took a 9-1 defeat this past Friday night in Princeton.


The Knights recently signed former Posse goaltender Bobby Milligan after the departure of goaltender Austin Madge, and he received starting duties Saturday night in Summerland. He was as good as he had to be, as Summerland threw shots at him from the outside and the Knights really limited the Steam’s dangerous scoring opportunities on route to a 3-2 victory.


Jett Saharchuk opened the scoring for the Knights with his 24th of the season just 3:53 into the hockey game. Saharchuk was the benefactor of a turnover by a Summerland defender at the Steam blue line, and found himself all alone staring down Steam goaltender Jared Breitkreuz. Saharchuk made no mistake, giving the Knights a lead early on.


Just shy of four minutes later, Dylan Huber would net his first of the season to double the lead for North Okanagan. A shot that tipped off a Summerland defender fell straight to Huber at the side of the net and he slipped it into the open cage to double the Knights lead.


Mitch Gove would cut the lead to one with 6:27 to play in the first period, using his speed to beat everyone. Gove picked up the puck in the neutral zone and made the wide turn up the left wing. He then crossed the North Okanagan blue line and went ALL the way out to the right wing side before ripping a bullet of a shot over the blocker side shoulder of Milligan for his 17th of the season.


With the score 2-1, action would go back and forth without a change until the 9:55 mark of the third period. The Knights, while on the power play, were able to make it a 3-1 game courtesy Kevin-Thomas Walters. Jett Saharchuk moved the puck across to Alec McLeod at the right point, McLeod blistered a shot well wide of Jared Breitkreuz in the Steam net, however the puck found it’s way out the other side right on to the stick of Walters who scored his 12th of the season to allow the Knights to regain their two goal lead.


Summerland would press, and were able to get back to within one with just :40 to play. While on the power play, an errant shot from Mitch Gove was found and collected in the right wing corner by Cody Swan. Swan then moved up the wall and found Lane French, who walked to the middle of the ice and unleashed a wicked wrister that beat Bobby Milligan low to the blocker side to make the score 3-2.


Despite one final push, that’s where it would stay as the Knights would leave victorious by a 3-2 score. Jared Breitkreuz deserved a better fate, no doubt, as he stopped 31 of 34 North Okanagan shots despite taking the loss.


The win for North Okanagan, combined with an overtime loss to the Kelowna Chiefs for the Princeton Posse pulled the Knights into the fourth and final playoff spot. By a single point, the Knights now hold the fourth spot in the Okanagan Division, and have a game in hand on the Posse. For what it’s worth the Osoyoos Coyotes find themselves just three points up on those two teams with 31 points, and it’s looking like a three team race for the final two playoff spots in the Okanagan Divison.


Summerland holds second place and that’s likely where they’ll finish, sitting 13 points clear of the third place Coyotes and trailing the Kelowna Chiefs by a now insurmountable 25 points. The Chiefs have clinched the division, and are in a battle with the Revelstoke Grizzlies for the Okanagan Shuswap Conference title as well.


For Summerland they’ll just focus on the basics. They have two more games before they get Cairo Rogers and Bevis Chou back in their lineup, which will both take place at home next weekend. They’ll get busy creating chemistry at practice this week in preparation to take on a pair of divisional rivals in key games that will have a direct impact on playoff standings. The Steam will take on the Osoyoos Coyotes on Friday and the Princeton Posse on Saturday, with both hungry to solidify their playoff position as we ride the roller coaster down to a February 23rd regular season finish.


Summerland could clinch a playoff spot with a pair of victories this coming weekend, and will likely finish second in the division for the fourth time in six years. With their playoff spot all but clinched and their standing nearly confirmed, they can focus on playing well structured hockey and get themselves ready for the gauntlet that is the KIJHL playoffs. This will mean limiting their mistakes, making the simple plays that make the difference, and finding ways to get pucks and bodies to the net on a more regular basis. All things they struggled a little bit with in their pair of most recent losses.


Conditioning will surely be something they work on headed down the stretch, as well. For those not familiar, once the playoffs begin, teams participating in the first round are required to complete a seven game series in just nine days. It’s a grind that isn’t matched by any other league in Western Canada, and something all teams try to be ready for. Most teams who play their 49 game regular season schedule do so playing AT MOST five games in any given nine day period, so it’s a bit of a shock to the system when the playoffs roll around.


Both of this weekend’s games could be potential playoff previews with Osoyoos, Princeton and North Okanagan all battling for those three and four spots in the standings. That fact should make for good, desperate hockey this weekend at the Summerland Arena, with both games having 7:30pm start times. Webcasts are available on with Tim Hogg and Joel Barg starting with the Coastal Eye Clinic pre-game show at 7:15pm.

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