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Wednesday, 19 February 2014

STEAM VISIT CHIEFS WITH FIRST PLACE TIED TO THE TRACKS

A lot of us thought it might come to this in the Okanagan Division, and at last it has. With the 3rd seed having gone to the Osoyoos Coyotes and the 4th seed being locked down by the North Okanagan Knights, there are only the top 2 seeds left to settle. The Summerland Steam and the Kelowna Chiefs have locked up those two spots it's just a matter of who finishes on top, and one weekend and possibly one game will tell all. The Steam and the Chiefs will go head to head in what truly is a first place showdown in Kelowna on Friday night at the Rutland Arena. The teams will then go their own ways so that Summerland can finish their schedule AT HOME against the Osoyoos Coyotes on Saturday night, while the Chiefs will head North to Armstrong to face the North Okanagan Knights.

With any type of win on Friday night in the head to head matchup, the Steam can clinch 1st place in the Okanagan Division. The Steam have clawed their way back up the standings from 5th to 1st since November 1, and will look to close out the climb with a win on Friday and a 1st place finish. With a loss, however, the Steam will need a win against Osoyoos and a Chiefs loss on Saturday night.

PREVIEW:


What can be said that hasn't been said already? It's no secret that these teams have been battling one another hard and tough since the start of the season, and it's also no secret that they have a pretty serious hate on for one another. The season series between the two teams is heading into it's 8th and final installment this season, with the Steam winning 4 of the 7 previous meetings. Six of their seven meetings this season have been decided by 2 goals or less, and Summerland was the first of the two teams to get a win on home ice in their last meeting by a score of 6-2.

Their last meeting essentially ended with the score 6-2 and 8:12 to go in the third period in a skirmish that resulted in a 3 game suspension to Alex Gran (Hair Pulling, Match Penalty) and a Gross Misconduct to Chiefs' Associate Coach Jason Tansem. Tansem, with his team yelling 'stay classy' at the time, was assessed the misconduct after squirting water over the glass partition onto the Summerland bench during a verbal confrontation between the two clubs. The coach will sit a minimum 3 game suspension that comes with a Gross Misconduct, while there has been no word from the league on further disciplinary action. Steam forward Cooper Holick picked up a misconduct out of the fracas as did d-man Calvin Hadley, who had been involved with Gran after Gran took exception to a hit from the Steam's Reid Brown on Jagger Bowles.

Here's the prospective for each team heading into THE biggest game of the season, by far:

SUMMERLAND STEAM (31-15-1-3, 66 PTS, 1ST PLACE OK DIVISION)


Coming off an emotional week last week with the loss of teammates Alex Fraser and Ryan Donaldson on Tuesday and Saturday, respectively, the Steam carried on with heavy hearts as they had business to take care of. They played Friday at home against Kelowna and took a 6-2 victory before attending Alex Fraser's Memorial Service on Saturday and playing (and beating) the Princeton Posse on the road on Saturday night. They then returned home for a Sunday afternoon battle with the North Okanagan Knights in which they picked up a 4-2 victory and the rights to sole possession of 1st place in the Okanagan Division. 

They did all this without their leading scorer, Kienan Scott, who remained sidelined with an injury. His linemates however, Paulsen Lautard and Daylan Robertson, found a new linemate in Sam Nigg and LIT IT UP in the three games 'Scotty' missed. Lautard picked up 8 points in 3 games, while Robertson did him one better with 9 points in those same 3 games. Robertson carries a 13 game point streak into Friday's game in Kelowna, while Lautard has collected at least a point in 10 of his last 11 games. Nigg was also hot last weekend, collecting a goal and four assists in the 3 games over the weekend. They'll need to continue the trend of scoring big goals if the Steam want to finish with the first seed in the Okanagan Division.
  
The Steam have had the luxury this season of being able to rotate their goaltending duties between both Brett Huber and Darren Hogg. It will likely be Brett Huber between the pipes for the Steam on Friday night as per that rotation, after Darren Hogg started and picked up a W on Sunday afternoon. 

Huber,the 19 year old native of Calgary, AB has a solid 19-11-1 record in 34 appearances this season, posting a 2.74 GAA and .916 SV%. In his second season with the Steam he has given them stability between the pipes and both he and Darren Hogg (20GP, 11-7, 3.24 GAA, .909 SV%) carry a level of confidence with them that transfers to all of their teammates. The two of them have combined for the 3rd best team GAA in the KIJHL this season at 2.94 per game, and that allows the Steam to play a more free and offensive game knowing they've got solid goaltending behind them each and every night.

KELOWNA CHIEFS (31-16-0-3, 65 PTS, 2ND PLACE OK DIVISION)


After sitting on top of the Okanagan Division for most of the season, the Chiefs now find themselves in a must-win situation on Friday night when they host the Summerland Steam. Led by the likes of their captain, Jordan Salahor, and others such as Nick Kovacik, Brady Mende, Nick Headrick, and goaltenders Tyler O'Donnell and Connor DeMelo, the Chiefs will surely come out with urgency in trying to regain the coveted 1st seed. 

Tyler O'Donnell started in goal last weekend for the Chiefs and I would suspect more of the same with Connor DeMelo having been out a couple of weeks with a suspected upper body injury. O'Donnell has been solid for the Chiefs this season, giving his team a chance to win every night while seeing a lot of action. The 20 year old native of Fountain Valley, California has posted a 20-9 record this season while maintaining a 3.10 GAA and a .910 SV%. 

With the departure of their leading scorer, Nick Josephs, in late December the Chiefs have relied on a total team effort and have gotten it night in and night out. The one guy that has impressed me this season so far, among others, is Brady Mende. Mende is a native of Winfield, BC playing for his 'hometown team' and at just 18 years old has emerged as one of the Chiefs' leaders in ice time as well as being a top tier penalty killer. Not only does Mende play heavy minutes, but he's become a point per game player in the KIJHL this season while playing EVERY GAME for the Chiefs and recording only 2 PIM(!!!) all season long. He'll be a guy the Steam need to watch for throughout the hockey game on Friday night. 

The puck drops on this 'Clash of the Titans' in the Okanagan Division at 7PM at the Rutland Arena on Friday night, February 21st. If you can't make it out to watch the game, be sure to join Justin McCartney and the crew on KIJHL.ca for the webcast starting right around 7PM! 

As always you can follow the teams on Facebook: 
Summerland Steam : 'Summerland Junior B Hockey Club'
Kelowna Chiefs: 'Kelowna Chiefs Junior Hockey Club"

And on Twitter:
Summerland Steam: @SteamKIJHL
Kelowna Chiefs: @KelownaChiefs

You can also follow along with myself (@Steam_Voice) on twitter for all the latest updates heading into the playoffs!