The Steam come into the contest against the Knights after winning each of their past 5 games and have pulled away from the Osoyoos Coyotes to open up a 7 point gap in the Okanagan Division standings. Looking up, the Steam are hot on the tail of the Kelowna Chiefs, who remain 3 points ahead of Summerland in the same amount of games played. The Chiefs and Coyotes will play one another tonight in Rutland.
Here's what you need to know to get you set up for tonight's contest:
NORTH OKANAGAN KNIGHTS (21-21-0-1, 43 pts, 4th in Okanagan Division)In Summerland tonight the Knights bring a bit of stiffness with them. They're known as a team that is very tough to play against because they bring skill and a physical edge that is not easily matched in the Okanagan Division. They, like the Steam, boast a solid goaltending tandem with Mitch Profeit and Zach Dyment giving them a chance to win each and every night. Steam fans will remember Dyment as he put on a spectacular performance in the Summerland Arena earlier this season to pick up a 3-1 win for his team.
The Steam will have to be sound in the defensive zone as the Knights boast several front line forwards that have no problem putting the puck in the net. The Knights' top 3 scorers are Brett Hawrys, Blake Culbert and Dennon Leibel, and the Steam will have to be cognizant each and every time those guys are on the ice. The Steam will also have to be aware of where they are on the ice at all times, because North Okanagan has no problem playing the physical game. The physical side of play is led by Knights' captain and Salmon Arm native TJ Christensen. He's the captain, the leader, and he's a big body that loves to hit whatever he can.
The stiffest test the Knights can put up for any team in the division and the league is their goaltending. Both of their goaltenders, whether it be Mitch Profeit or Zach Dyment, have the ability to steal a game for their team and have shown that against divisional opponents like the Steam and the Osoyoos Coyotes this season. The Steam will need to get traffic to the front of the net and get their shots through if they're going to have any chance of beating whichever backstop is in the North Okanagan crease.
SUMMERLAND STEAM (25-14-1-3, 54 pts, 2nd in Okanagan Division)
The Steam come into tonight's matchup at home on a 5 game winning streak that's seen them beat these North Okanagan Knights as well as the Osoyoos Coyotes, Princeton Posse, and the Kelowna Chiefs twice. They've put themselves in a good position to chase down first in the Okanagan Division, while leaving the Coyotes trailing them by 7 points.
After a struggle at the beginning of the season that included a 7 game losing skid in October, the Steam turned the calendar to November 1 and haven't looked back. In 28 games played since November 1st, the Steam have only recorded 5 regulation time losses, gaining at least a point in 23 of those 28 games.
They've been led lately in large part by their veteran players. The guys that don't get points every night but play a solid 2 way game are key for the Steam, and they've been led in that department lately by the likes of Olli Dickson and Braden Saretsky. Kienan Scott is back to contributing on the scoresheet as well as off of it every night, and same goes for Jordan Boultbee, Daylan Robertson, and Paulsen Lautard.
In recent games, particularly since acquiring Calvin Hadley at the trade deadline, the Steam have been much improved in their defensive zone. They're turning the puck over less and are making a conscious effort to clear the puck on the first opportunity rather than taking two or three attempts to clear.
Brett Huber will start for the Steam tonight, his third straight after Darren Hogg had his gear stolen on Thursday last week. Hogg is now in the middle of breaking in new equipment and hopes to possibly start Wednesday in Armstrong when these two teams convene once again. Huber has been solid this season, making 30 appearances and holding a record of 16-11-1 while maintaining a 2.74 GAA and a .916 SV%.
As always, the puck drops at 7:30 at the Summerland Arena and if you can't make it out we've got you covered at KIJHL.ca on the webcast. You can follow along with the two teams on twitter (@SteamKIJHL and @NOKnights) as well as myself (@Steam_Voice) for the latest updates leading up to game time!