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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

STEAM HEAD UP THE ROAD FOR PLAYOFF REMATCH

At the end of the 2013/14 KIJHL playoffs, I stood in the press box in disbelief because I couldn't believe what had just happened. I looked around and realized I wasn't alone in this, as all the Steam staff and players were doing the same thing as we watched the North Okanagan Knights celebrated a bizarre Game 7 win inside the Summerland Arena.

It may be a new season and some of the names on the back of Steam sweaters may be a little different, but the sour taste still remains in the mouths of those Summerland Steam players back for another season. The taste in those guys' mouths stems from that gut-wrenching Game 7 loss in March that saw a one-goal lead turn into a two-goal defeat in the final minutes. First it was adulation as Paulsen Lautard gave the Steam the lead on the powerplay with 8:13 remaining in the 3rd period of Game 7. Then, in what was an astonishing turn of events, it all came crashing down.

It looked as though Lautard's powerplay goal was about to write a story book ending to a series in which the Steam stormed back from a 3-1 series deficit and a 2 goal deficit in Game 7. When the Steam went back to the powerplay immediately after the goal, however, they were unable to get it together in the offensive zone. So much so that North Okanagan's Brett Hawrys was able to take advantage of a defensive miscue in the Steam zone and tie the game while his team was shorthanded. The Hawrys goal was followed a few minutes later by a goal from Morgan Johnston on another defensive lapse, which turned out to be the dagger. Johnston was then able to add another into an empty net to send the Steam packing in the first round of the KIJHL Playoffs.

These are the types of losses that stick with you as a player, and with a handful of players from each team returning for another season, there will surely be no love lost when the two face-off in Armstrong on Wednesday night for the first time this season.



PREVIEW

The Knights come into Wednesday's contest with the Summerland Steam boasting a 1-2-0-1 record and a whole bunch of new faces in their lineup. They will return 7 players from their 2013/14 team, and will add 4 more that played in games as Affiliate Players last season. The Steam can expect that they won't be welcomed warmly to the ice at Nor-Val on Wednesday, as the Knights' have some of the loudest and best fans in the league and in their home rink it seems they sit directly over top of the ice surface, making for a very loud atmosphere inside the building. 

The Steam are going to have to block out the distractions early and try to capitalize on some chances in the first few minutes of the hockey game. North Okanagan comes into Wednesday's matchup with a league worst -12 differential between Goals For and Goals against, largely in part to a disastrous 11-0 loss to the high-powered Osoyoos Coyotes on the opening night of the KIJHL Season. 

The Steam come into the mid-week tilt on the opposite end of the spectrum, boasting a 3-1 record and one of the best goal differentials in the KIJHL at plus 12. They'll surely be looking for a little revenge from that Game 7 loss back in March, and it will all start with their offense. The guys up front have been largely successful in the first 2 weeks of the season, particularly veteran Paulsen Lautard and former North Okanagan AP Cole Woodliffe, who each have recorded 6 points in the first 4 games of this young season. To go along with their offensive outburst in the first 4 games of the season, the Steam have also been strong defensively, especially in goal with Brett Huber between the pipes. 

Huber had the best numbers in the Okanagan Division last season posting a 21-11-0-1 record while maintaining a 2.70 GAA and a .914 SV% in 36 appearances, and he's continued to post eye popping numbers through the beginning of this season. He's played all 4 games for the Steam so far, posting a 3-1 record with a 1.26 GAA and a .955 SV% early on. He'll be a big key for the Steam heading into hostile territory in Armstrong on Wednesday night. 





The puck drops at 7PM at the Nor-Val Center in Armstrong. You can catch all the action at www.kijhl.ca on the webcast starting just prior to puck drop. The same two teams will go head to head again on Saturday at The Station in Summerland.