The Summerland Steam took to the road on Wednesday night, heading a couple hours up Highway 97 for a playoff rematch with the North Okanagan Knights at the Nor-Val Arena in Armstrong. The last time the Steam were inside the confines of Nor-Val, it was now-graduated Steam forward Sam Nigg who scored on a breakaway in overtime to send a gritty playoff series to a 7th and deciding game. We knew heading into tonight's contest the Steam would not be welcomed warmly to the ice at Nor-Val, but it was up to them to get a good start and make sure the distractions were limited.
From the time the puck dropped at the opening faceoff, the Steam began to pester Knights' starting goaltender Brady Lenardon with shots. The Steam were able to carry the bulk of the play and allow their goaltender, Alex Kong, the ability to get comfortable in his crease in his first KIJHL start. Kong's teammates helped him out in the early going by ensuring the puck stayed away from his goal crease, firing 14 total shots at the Knights' net in the first period while the Knights managed just 8.
The scoring would be started by the Steam in the first, thanks to the 'Yukon Connection' line of Riley Pettitt, Wyatt Gale and Jarrett Malchow, all residents of Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. Gale would be the goal scorer after he was able to find a loose puck in front of the North Okanagan net and bury it behind Knights' goaltender Brady Lenardon. Assists would go to Pettitt and Malchow, and the Steam took an early 1-0 lead.
Thomas Pattison would erase the Steam lead just over a minute later, however, after he deflected a long shot from Austin Garrington past Alex Kong to tie the game at 1. The period would end shortly after the two goals were scored, with the Steam leading 14-8 on the shot clock.
The second period would start much like the first one did, with the Steam jumping all over the Knights off the opening faceoff and immediately widening the gap in the shot department. There was only one goal to report in the second, that being Jack Mills' 3rd of the season, assisted by Braden Eliuk on the Steam's 10th shot of the 2nd period with 2:21 to go.
The line of Pettitt, Malchow, and Gale would connect again in the third period, as Pettitt would collect his 1st of the season with Malchow and Gale collecting assists on the insurance marker. The trio from the Yukon would be the Steam's best on the night, as they were buzzing around the puck and causing havoc inside the North Okanagan zone all night long. They were also strong in their defensive zone, making sure their checks were covered and their zone exits were clean.
The Steam coaching staff expected a lot out of the three young men from Whitehorse when they were signed in late July, and it looks as though they are just finding their stride as a line just 5 games into this young season. The trio has combined for 10 points in the first 5 games of the season and will be a big part of a multi-pronged attack for the Summerland Steam as the season progresses.
The final line in tonight's game winds up as a 3-1 win for the Summerland Steam and Alex Kong, who picks up his first KIJHL win on a light workload, stopping 13 of 14 shots he faced in the game. Tonight reminded me of the home opener the Steam played against the Kelowna Chiefs nearly two weeks ago, in the fact that it was all Steam all the time. Shots ended up 34-14 on the night, and Summerland did a great job of controlling runs of play for minutes at a time and not affording the Knights any significant opportunity to manufacture offense.
After the win tonight the Steam move to 4-1 on the season, and look forward to hosting these same North Okanagan Knights in their next home game, Saturday Night at the Summerland Arena. Puck drops at 7:30 and you can pick up your tickets at the door on game day or from our friends at Nesters Market all week leading up to Saturday night. Join myself and 98.5 EzRock Summerland's Mike Swanson for the call at KIJHL.ca just prior to a 7:30 puck drop!