What a great first round of the playoffs to kick off the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League Teck Cup Championships. There were several overtime thrills, tremendous action and ends off with Game 7 battles. This KIJHL Notebook focuses on the first round winners.
Eddie Mountain Division
Aside from the opening period in Game 1, Kimberley Dynamiters Head Coach and GM Derek Stuart felt his team played very well in their series sweep of the Golden Rockets.
“Especially limiting our opponent’s scoring chances, our physicality and conditioning really showed as the series progressed,” said Stuart, whose team allowed eight goals in four games. “Every player played at least one game except for one who is injured and each player contributed when they got their chance.”
To Stuart, having everyone contribute is a big playoff requirement and they have that right now.
“Kade (Leskosky) and Austin (Daniels) led the way offensively, but what I liked most was their play away from the puck,” said Stuart. “They were strong defensively, finished their checks hard and it helped open up some offensive opportunities for them. When they’re moving their feet, they are very difficult to contain.”
Leskosky, a rookie, had six goals and two assists in four games, while Daniels had four goals and four assists.
Columbia Valley Rockies Head Coach Briar McNaney liked the performance of his goaltenders and their team discipline. Grady Nicholas won all three of his starts and had a shutout to go with a 1.20 GAA and a .958 SP, while Scott Thompson won one of his three games with a 4.05 GAA and a .874 SP.
“We’ve seemed to have done a much better job tightening up the ship in regards to taking penalties and cleaning up our defensive zone and forecheck,” said McNaney, whose team took 88 penalty minutes. “I think Fernie played pretty well, I think they played even better than they have in the regular season getting better every single game which is something to be proud of for any group.
“We think that clamping down on those small details was the finishing touches in what was able to get us over the hump in the first round,” he continued.
McNaney said the group’s confidence is pretty high heading into the second round as they will face the Kimberley Dynamiters.
“The boys are feeling pretty good and we went into the series as a staff knowing that we only have two players (Owen Hughes and Colby Phillips) on our team with junior hockey playoff experience so it was going to be quite new and a bumpy road for the first couple of games.”
Once the comfort level kicked in, the Rockies confidence skyrocketed and an “OT winner from your top player gets your entire team buzzing.” 251
Neil Murdoch Division
“We had to remind the team that we’re a first-place team,” said Nelson Leafs Assistant Coach Adam DiBella of the message to the players to motivate them after trailing 3-1 in the series to the Castlegar Rebels. “We finished 30 points ahead of Castlegar and we thought from Game 2 to Game 7 we outplayed Castlegar and Ethan Lawczysnki stole Game 3 and 4 in Castlegar. We had to remind the players to just stick to our process, the results will come, work hard and do the right thing.”
They did just that, defeating the Rebels 3-1 in Game 7 at home.
The Leafs made small changes after Game 4, one being to get to the net more. DiBella said Lawczynski is “such a stud goaltender.”
“You can’t just take shots without traffic or without rebounds,” he said. “We really had to get to the net harder and defend ours better. We were giving up too many cross-crease goals. We cleaned up our net and got a little hungrier around their net.”
Winning three games in a row, and in front of a sell-out crowd gives them even more confidence.
“I would love to thank our crowd for a Wednesday night sell-out. We were 100 people away from selling out our arena,” he said of the crowd of 1,089.
Beaver Valley Nitehawks Head Coach and GM Terry Jones joked that “I feel like I played seven games” following his team’s 3-2 Game 7 win over the Creston Valley Thunder Cats on Thursday night.
Jones felt in the opening game his team came out uptight and nervous (a 5-4 loss), Game 5 really uptight and nervous (5-3 loss); Game 2 they played very well, Game 3 and 4 that goalie Owen Albers was the big star, stealing those games. And in Game 6 he thought they really played well, but Creston got some momentum going in the third period.
Albers finished the opening round with a .915 SP and a 2.87 GAA.
“I thought it was a really good series,” said Jones. “I give a lot of credit to Creston, they played very hard and the system, how simple and effective they played, was just suited for their team. They are a really well coached team.”
Jones loves that the playoffs are about finding a different hero every night. He felt as though that was one of the things that emerged.
“It won’t show on the scoresheet tonight so much, but Ollie Clement, and Kelton McAuley and Spencer Lloyd just had a terrific game,” said Jones. “They were a real big part of the win. They drew a lot of penalties, they kept their top line off the board and a lot of key defensive play. That’s a really important thing when you have different people stepping up and making important plays throughout a game.”
Doug Birks Division
Ryan Parent, Head Coach and GM of the Revelstoke Grizzlies said his team was prepared for a tough opening round against the Sicamous Eagles, which they won in four.
“I don’t think for a second that they were an easy opponent,” he said. “Especially in the first two games that went to overtime, we were happy to win those games and happy to get the sweep and move on.”
Parent liked the focus from his group.
“We were able to be more disciplined. All the things we talked about going into the round, guys were attentive to that,” he said. “They really followed our game plan and we were able to execute with a full effort.”
Geoff Grimwood, Head Coach of the Kamloops Storm, believes that’s the most overtime periods he has been part of as a coach, after defeating the Chase Heat 2-1 in triple overtime. While in Powell River about 10 years ago, they won a triple overtime game against Surrey, but it wasn’t a Game 7.
“To have it in a Game 7 was pretty tense. In the end, a pretty special night for us,” said Grimwood. “Definitely I think the longest one I have ever been a part of.”
Through the series, Grimwood felt the matchup was tight and told the players going in to expect it to go seven games.
“Every game was tight,” he said. “Every game went down to the wire. It’s almost surprising that it was only Game 7 that went to overtime. Certainly some of the other games were really close and I thought our guys played really hard. We got better as the series went on, even Game 5 and 6 that we lost. We were pretty happy with how we played.
“Chase was incredible,” he continued. “They worked extremely hard and their goaltender Jack Osmond stood on his head. Jacob Biensch is just an incredible player. Every shift he was dangerous. We really had to pay attention to him.”
Grimwood said their conditioning and penalty-killing were big factors in helping them win the series.
“Playoff hockey isn’t always about skill, it’s about determination and playing hard defensively and the guys did that, it’s really good to see,” he said.
Bill Ohlhausen Division
Osoyoos Coyotes Head Coach Carter Rigby said it was great to get that first series win.
“I give Princeton credit, their goaltender played unreal for them and he (Peyton Trzaska) made it difficult on our guys, especially some key guys there,” said Rigby. “Game 3 they came out hard in their own barn and gave us a run for our money, but at the same time, we’ve never lost back-to-back all year and fought through some adversity, which we haven’t had a lot of this year.”
Rigby was happy to see a bounce back game on Saturday night, showing the character in their room. Even Game 4 being down two goals a period and a half into the game.
“Princeton ended up giving us a tougher time than most would have probably thought,” he said. “I’m really happy with the overall effort of our group and the character in the room to get a comeback last night.”
Rigby was really happy with their 5-on-5 play, adding they are pretty good on the power-play, but that wasn’t really going during the series, especially in Princeton’s arena. The Coyotes power-play scored five times on 26 chances, while they had 12 even-strength goals.
“Just overall the way we took over games and we are scoring on 5-on-5, which shows the depth that we do have,” said Rigby. “We have started to be more disciplined than we have in the past, which is great. We are going to need to be more disciplined than we have in the regular season because the better teams are going to burn you on the power-play.”
There was a lot that Summerland Steam Head Coach and GM Mark MacMillan liked following their series win over the Kelowna Chiefs in five games.
“We won games in different ways, which I think is important in the playoffs,” he said. “We had games where I think we outplayed them and deserved to win and other games, especially in Game 5 where they really took it to us, but we just found a way to win with some great goaltending, some timely saves and then some timely goals.”
MacMillan said it was fun to see the group battle up and work as a team to get the job done. MacMillan used goalies Colton Macauley and Ben Lewis during the series, with each picking up two wins. He plans to continue using both, who combined for a 2.41 GAA and a .940 SP.
“Colt played awesome in both his games, had a shutout in his first one,” said MacMillan. “Benny has been our starter all year, but I have full faith in Colt and obviously with how compact the schedule is, I think it’s important to keep both guys fresh so they’re at their best when they are in.”
What stood out about the team against Kelowna is their resiliency, which is a word that constantly pops in his MacMillan’s head
“We got up a couple games, and the message was not to sit back and we have a very young team for a junior team and I think at times we started to panic a little bit, but the boys were resilient,” he said.