The Steam got off to a good start once again, as they applied pressure early and forced the Chiefs to take a penalty just thirty seconds into the hockey game. Ryan Baim went off for boarding and the Steam took advantage, as Michael Winnitoy took a beautiful pass from Jordan Boultbee and buried it behind Chiefs' starting goaltender Tyler O'Donnell to give his team an early lead.
The powerplay goal from Winnitoy was his 8th of the season (and 4th on the powerplay) and would be the only scoring of the period. The teams did trade penalties as there were a couple of roughing after the whistle calls and a few cross-checking calls to be made by referee Brent Hazel (who was very good all night).
There was no scoring in a back and forth second period, just lots of fast action and good chances at either end. Kelowna carried the bulk of the play and got some good looks at the Summerland net, but none resulted in goals for the Chiefs.
Before the start of the third period, knowing his team had been outworked in the second, the Steam's stick boy, Jason Smith, stood on the bench by himself and looked at the ice. He realized there were Steam fans by the plenty in the crowd, and decided he should try to get them going before the boys came out for the third period.
Jason started waving his arms in the air as if to say 'LOUDER' and the Steam fans got louder, and continued to make their presence known throughout the third period. With all the noise and all the adrenaline flowing, it didn't take long for the Steam to add to their lead as Braden Saretsky scored an absolute beauty with 16:46 to go in the third period.
Rylan Sideroff moved the puck forward to Shane Bennett who left it for Saretsky. Saretsky then used his speed to the outside to burn a Kelowna defender before cutting clear across the front of the net from the left wing corner and sliding a puck between the legs of the Kelowna goaltender to extend the Steam's lead to 2-0.
Kelowna's captain, Jordan Salahor, would cut the lead in half just a minute later with a goal off a scrum that found it's way behind Steam starter Brett Huber. It would be the only puck to get past Huber on the night, however, as the Steam's leading scorer, Kienan Scott, would fire one into an empty net in the final minute to bring the score to 3-1. Despite immense pressure in the final minutes by the Chiefs they could not find a way to tie the hockey game.
Huber was stellar in the Summerland goal when the Steam needed him to stand tall. He was particularly good in the second period when the Chiefs really brought the pressure to the Steam. He only had to make 18 saves on 19 shots, but the shots from the Chiefs came in quality, not quantity.
With the win, the Steam clinch the Okanagan Division and will meet the North Okanagan Knights in the first round of the playoffs while the Kelowna Chiefs will host the Osoyoos Coyotes in what will surely be a hot blooded, no love type of affair. Both series' start Tuesday night and will be a battle throughout.
The division title is unthinkable, to be honest. It's sweet for the Steam because of everything they've had to go through this season through the midst of the ups and downs and having two teammates pass away earlier this month. The unexpected passing of teammates Alex Fraser and Ryan Donaldson was and continues to be a very difficult thing to cope with for the Summerland Steam, but it has also brought them together as a group and has allowed them to thrive in a team sport that relies so heavily on emotion. The players and their coaches have done a wonderful job of not letting their emotions affect them in a negative way. Instead they've been able to harness that emotion and really come together, and it shows in their play.
Particularly in the play of Steam forward Braden Saretsky, who was very close with both teammates. Braden has been able to come back to the team, albeit with a heavy heart, and be one of the Steam's best players of late, including scoring the game (and division clinching) goal last night with a wonderful individual effort against the Kelowna Chiefs.
Looking back on how an Okanagan Division Championship came to fruition, it really is an amazing tale of 2 totally different seasons. On October 31st it looked unattainable, the Steam were tied for last place with the Princeton Posse with 11 points and just 5 wins through their first 15 games. After a 3-2 loss to the Sicamous Eagles at home on November 1st that extended the losing streak to 7 games, the Steam were forced to take a serious look at what was happening and where they wanted to go with their season.
They ultimately chose that losing wasn't really an option anymore. In the 36 games since, the loss on November 1 to the Eagles is one of only 9 total losses (2 in OT). That means the Steam have recorded 26 wins and points in 29 of 36 games, leading to the 1st place finish and Okanagan Division Championship. A remarkable run by a truly remarkable group of young men, led by a core group of 20 year olds who've been playing together since they were five years old.
Olli Dickson, Josh Dacosta, Sam Nigg, Dylan Burton, and Darren Hogg have all done their part to help build a winner in Summerland this season, and the season really turned when Dylan Burton returned to the team in early November. The addition of Burton gave the forward lines some constant structure and allowed Steam head coach John Depourcq to be able to roll 4 lines at any given time. This championship is especially sweet for those 5 guys of mention, as they also won a Provincial Midget Championship together in their final year of minor hockey in the Penticton Minor Hockey Association.
The Steam will close out their regular season schedule AT HOME on Saturday night when the Osoyoos Coyotes pay their final visit to the Summerland Arena. The puck drops at 7:30! Come out and enjoy a great hockey game, BRING YOUR FRIENDS, FAMILY, NEIGHBOURS, AND COWORKERS, AND BE LOUD AS WE WELCOME HOME THE OKANAGAN DIVISION CHAMPIONS!