After 2 ties and a loss last week, the Summerland Steam were back to practice this week to prepare for divisional games starting tonight. The Steam will host the Kelowna Chiefs and the Princeton Posse this weekend after coming out of last week with a tie against Osoyoos, a loss in Revelstoke, and a tie with Princeton on Sunday afternoon.
Sunday's contest was a test of depth for the Steam, as they were without Nicholas Gnazdowsky, Michael McEachern and Alex Williams heading into the contest and lost Cole Woodliffe early in the first period to injury. Jack Mills also left the game late in the 2nd and did not return. All are expected to be available this weekend when the Steam host the Kelowna Chiefs on Friday night and the Princeton Posse on a second consecutive Sunday afternoon.
Up first is meeting #7 of 8 between the Steam and the Chiefs, and the final meeting of the season at the Summerland Arena. In 6 previous meetings between the two teams this season, Summerland has been victorious 5 times. In those victories the Steam have scored 5 or more goals 4 times, with the other being a 3-2 win in Rutland on December 9th.
Summerland's lone loss of the season to the Chiefs came in a January 13th meeting in Rutland that saw Nick Josephs, Braeden Cyra and Ryan Lawson combine for 10 points in a 5-3 victory. Cyra led the way with 5 (2g+3a), while Josephs recorded 3 (2g + 1a) and Lawson nabbed an assist in the win.
If you only watch the Steam at home and haven't seen the Chiefs lately, you're in for a surprise. Summerland has not hosted the Chiefs since November 28th, and the team that comes into the Summerland Arena on Friday night is a little different than the version put forth by Head Coach Jason Tansem and GM Grant Sheridan in that meeting.
The Chiefs have added depth up front in acquiring Kelowna native Ryan Lawson from the Columbia Valley Rockies. Lawson brings balance to Kelowna's top 6 and is a good bet to be playing alongside Chiefs' leading scorer Braeden Cyra on Friday night. In addition to Lawson, the Chiefs added some defensive depth in Carter Melnyk. Melnyk also came from Columbia Valley, and has fit in nicely and helped the Chiefs' special teams immensely.
The biggest addition for the Chiefs, however, was the return of Nick Josephs from the BCHL. He's only played 3 games due to injury, but has recorded 9 points (6g + 3a) in those games. Josephs is far and away the most gifted player in the KIJHL and will play a 'wild-card' sort of role for the Chiefs heading down the stretch with nobody really knowing if he'll be available or not on any given night
With the nature of the injury that Josephs is playing with, it is likely that he could be in and out of the lineup from now until the end of the playoffs. The Chiefs are a well balanced and talented team without him, but they become dangerously confident when he's in the lineup.
The Chiefs will need every bit of skill and confidence they have coming down the stretch with a condensed schedule. They currently are in a battle for third in the Okanagan Division with the Princeton Posse, sitting 4 points back with 5 games to play going into Friday night. Both teams have 5 games left, 4 against divisional opponents and 1 head to head.
Princeton gets Summerland, Osoyoos x2, Kelowna and Sicamous while Kelowna gets Summerland x2, Princeton, Osoyoos and Columbia Valley. Princeton plays 2 of their remaining 5 on home ice while Kelowna only gets 1 more chance on home ice.
Kelowna will have a condensed schedule coming down to the finish, playing twice this weekend and twice next weekend. It gets a little more complicated as they will have to squeeze in a make-up game with the Columbia Valley Rockies IN Invermere on Monday night. It was a game that has been scheduled and cancelled three times due to weather conditions and it looks as though they'll finally be able to get it in at the tail end of this weekend.
From a Summerland standpoint, the Steam are starting to get healthy and ready to make a playoff run. Coming into Friday night's clash with the division rival Chiefs, the Steam have locked up 2nd place in the Okanagan Division and home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The addition of Daylan Robertson and return of Paulsen Lautard have helped the Steam a tonne since January 10th. Robertson plays a complete, responsible 2-way game and brings his best every single night, while Lautard helps the offense with his big body and wicked shot.
The return of those two players has helped nobody more than Tyson Klingspohn. 'Klinger' seems to have found a home on the left wing on that line and finally broke his snakebite on Sunday with an absolute rocket of a shot against Princeton. Klingspohn has looked extremely good in the past 10 games for Summerland, and it's great to see him being rewarded with big-time minutes and points on the board.
The emergence of Lautard, Robertson and Klingspohn has given opposing teams a decision as to who their top pair is going to cover on defense. It usually leaves one of either the Lautard-Robertson-Klingspohn line or the Woodliffe-Mills-Eliuk line available to create opportunities for the Steam. The Yukon line has been especially good since the return of Riley Pettitt as well, causing all sorts of problems for opposing teams with their forecheck. Look for that to be a factor tonight when the Steam host the Chiefs.
Puck drop from the Summerland Arena is at 7:30 and Ultimate Hockey & Skate is our Game Night Sponsor. They'll have tons of cool stuff going on at their table and their mascot will be cheering on the Steam as well! You can catch Mike and I for full pre-game on KIJHL.ca around 7:20.