With two weekends of Kootenay International Junior Hockey League action in the books, only one team remains undefeated in regulation – the back-to-back Teck Cup champion Revelstoke Grizzlies, while the Summerland Steam, are also undefeated in regulation time, but have dropped two games in a shootout. This week’s edition of The KIJHL Notebook delves into team performances.
Doug Birks Division
|The defending KIJHL champs improved to 3-0 with a 1-0 win over the Kamloops Storm. Owen Albers earned his first KIJHL shutout, while Carter Bettenson netted the winner for the Grizzlies. Associate Head Coach Jiri Novak said they are doing good to start, but still we can see some mistakes in our game.
“We are focusing on figuring it out and playing the right way to be better than how we were last year,” said Novak. “It’s a long process and we have new guys to be familiar with our structure. We can see some progress in our game.”
Against the Storm they played good, defensive hockey, which was supported by the veteran presence on their back end. Novak said they know how to play in the D-zone.
“Both teams had a lot of chances and the goalies were pretty good,” he said.
|After losing a close 1-0 game to the Grizzlies, the Kamloops Storm bounced back to defeat the Sicamous Eagles, for their second win under new Head Coach Jan Ludvig. Harrison Ewert leads the Storm with three goals, while Ryan Larsen is the team leader with four points. In goal, Cody Creasy and Nate Hoffman have teamed up for a 1.33 goals against average and a .960 save percentage.
|After opening the season with two wins, the Sicamous Eagles have lost their last two games. Rookie Zack Brandson leads the team with three goals and five points. Forward Alex Smith said they got off to a pretty good start and then the second weekend they came out slower in the opening period of both games. It’s something he says they must work on.
“We’ve definitely been moving the puck pretty well and getting good scoring chances. The goals will come.”
On Brandson, Smith said the Calgary product has been a big contributor.
“He is very good positionally and can really shoot the puck. I’m really happy he’s on our side. I’m pretty pleased with teh players that Head Coach & GM Nick Deschenes has brought in and it should be a pretty good year for us.”
|The Chase Heat have earned a single point from a shootout loss to Kimberley. The Heat have a goal differential of -13. Offensively, the Heat are led by rookie Jalen Davidson, who has three goals and five points and his linemate Kieran Armitage has five points in four games.
|The 100 Mile House Wranglers are still looking for their first win, but Head Coach & GM Dale Hladun is not concerned about the record as he expected a slow start.
“Not because of talent, it’s going to be because of inexperience as I’ve got probably one of the youngest teams I’ve ever coached with two 20-year-olds. I just think there is a ton of upside in these kids and you see moments – we’ve gone toe-to-toe with some giants and Osoyoos is good, and Revelstoke is good and Princeton has got a nice club.”
In Revelstoke on opening night: “There’s Revelstoke standing on the blueline with 15 players of their 20 in the roster wearing rings. They were champions. I can see the light, I’m not stressed at all. These kids are getting better by leaps and bounds every day. I like the fact that there’s push back.”
|Bill Ohlhausen Division
|The Summerland Steam split their games last weekend, earning an overtime win against the Osoyoos Coyotes. The Steam have yet to lose in regulation time after five games. Head Coach & GM Mark MacMillan said prior to their game against Princeton that he’s happy with their performance. MacMillan added they have lots to work on as it’s early in the season.
“I think our team is young and we’re talented, but being young, inexperienced also comes with making some inexperienced plays,” he said. “One of the biggest things is we’re fast. When I was recruiting our team this year, that’s one thing I wanted to focus on. The game of hockey more and more every year is becoming faster and faster and more about skating. I want our team to play fast, and play aggressive. For the most part, that has come through so I’m excited about that.”
|The Princeton Posse picked up a pair of wins last week against 100 Mile House and Fernie. Head Coach Mark Readman said the way they have started is always a positive, especially considering last year they struggled out of the gate.
“Our group, even at 3-1, I thought we had every chance to win that game in Nelson. They are an experienced team that made a good push last year, and scored a nice one late. The group is playing well. The one thing we have been stressing is compete. Winning is the easy part, but doing every little thing along the way to be a winner or be a championship team is the hard part. Just stressing the little details of the game.”
Their veteran presence has stood out to Readman. Last year having close to 20 rookies, they have talked a lot about changing the culture, changing the reputation. The guys returning, in leadership roles or not, have led by example.
Saskatoon’s Andrew Karam, who produced 18 points in 40 games last season, leads the Posse with six points in five games and has a game-winner.
|After losing their opening two games in regulation time and overtime, the Osoyoos Coyotes picked up wins against 100 Mile House and Fernie. New Head Coach Ken Law, back for his second stint with the organization, said they were not ready for their first two games missing their entire leadership group and four of their top players.
“Guys were flat and asked to play roles they weren’t used to. It was a real eye-opener for the rookies involved. We are starting to adapt and grow each day as the guys are starting to build team chemistry and a team Identity,” said Law.
Different players have been emerging each day and they are seeing the buy in as players do things the right way.
“Having come into a team that was pretty much set prior to my arrival was a little different,” he added. “I think Carter Rigby had done a good job selecting the guys he did as they have already started showing why they are here. I’m looking forward to working with this group and seeing where we fit in.”
|A young Kelowna Chiefs squad has earned a win in three games and thus far have managed two goals. In goal, Caleb Muri, acquired from the Sicamous Eagles has the lone win and has put up stellar numbers with an impressive 1.92 goals against average and.952 save percentage.
|The North Okanagan Knights picked up their first victory against the Sicamous Eagles and offensively are led by Kevin-Thomas Walters, who returned from the B.C. Hockey League, with three points, including two goals. Head Coach & GM Liam McOnie said they had a slow start with a “lack of trust in each other and lacked a little bit of chemistry.”
“As we became more familiar and got more reps together in games, we got better,” said McOnie. “When we play a team-first game, we are a really solid group. Austin Seibel played a great game against Sicamous as he was very calm and composed and made some big saves for us to secure the win. He’s put a lot of work into his game and it was great to see him be rewarded.”
|Eddie Mountain Division
|The Fernie Ghostriders won one of their three games over the weekend and are now 3-1-1 to start the season. Dayton Nelson collected a pair of assists in a win over Kelowna and now leads the league with nine points in five games. Goalie Reed McLennan earned a 25-save shutout against Kelowna, his former team.
“We’re off to a fairly decent start, though we had a tough weekend this weekend,” said Head Coach & GM Ty Valin. “Any time you can get off to a 3-1-1 start you are going to be happy with that. The biggest thing is their consistency right now as we are doing the things we are focusing on. It’s a work in progress, but it’s good to see the leadership of the returning guys taking over. It forces the newer players to adapt right away and not have such a big learning curve.”
Dayton Nelson and Ethan MacDuff have enjoyed strong offensive starts, as well as Kort Kisinger.
“That’s a line that we built as the season went on last year. It’s nice to have those three guys back and see that chemistry start right from the start,” he said.
|The Columbia Valley Rockies have won three of four games and have the second best goal differential in the league at 10. Their netminding tandem with Brett Sweet and Ewan McDevitt have been strong with a combined goals against average of 2.75 and a .923 save percentage.
After opening the season with a split, the Rockies have won consecutive games against Chase and Kimberley.
|The Kimberley Dynamiters have won three of their four games to start the season, however, Head Coach & GM Derek Stuart said they have “done just barely enough to get our three wins.”
“We are elevating our game only when we “have to” and that’s not acceptable. We need to be better and much more consistent,” he said. “One positive has been our power-play, which has scored at least once in every game so far.”
Stuart added that defenceman Kasey Miller and Carson Cleland have both played very well and consistently to start the season.
|The Golden Rockets erased a 3-0 deficit against the Summerland Steam Saturday to win 4-3 in a shootout for their second victory in four games. Head Coach & GM Chuck Wight said they are doing a good job of being a competitive team.
“That’s our goal in every game and you see the younger players adjusting to the speed of the KIJHL. It seems that the younger guys are doing quite well and our veterans are taking that next step,” said Wight. “It’s nice to see that progression.”
The win against the Steam was big for the group as they came out playing strong, but didn’t have much finish. After the second period, they had a good conversation and veteran Jordan Lario got things rolling.
“It was nice to see our captain step up and perform at that level,” he said. “A lot of players just followed right along. The ability to outwork the other team in the third is such a big part of it. I felt we did a great job of doing that.”
|The Creston Valley Thunder Cats lost their lone game last week to Nelson and now have two losses with a shootout loss. Head Coach & GM Brad Tobin says they are going through a process of getting their rookies up to speed while the team is underperforming a bit with some key players out. Against Nelson they played a really good game, though were outshot and outchanced.
“Jacob Burnside, our goaltender, played outstanding and then we kind of had a good push in the last 10 minutes. You can see that the guys are starting to get the system. Our compete level just has to keep getting raised.”
|Neil Murdoch Division
|The Grand Forks Border Bruins won two of their three games last week and currently are first in their division. Head Coach & GM Dave Hnatiuk said the start of the season has been nice and one they were hoping for.
“It’s nice seeing us score some goals this year on 5-on-5. Overall we are looking a lot stronger than last year. It’s a fun atmosphere right now,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do, but first give games, we’re pretty happy with the way things are going.”
What has stood out about their performance has been their ability to score goals. Last year was a challenge generating offence.
“This year we’re able to have more offensive power. Our top guys are being our top guys and that’s what you need,” he said, adding that the additions of Spencer Horning, Cody Laybolt and Tyson Tokarz has been huge.
The trio make up three of their top-five point producers.
|The Nelson Leafs have won three of their four games to start the season. Head Coach Adam DiBella said they have been impressed with many elements of their game.
“Whether you win or lose, we always have to be looking at ways to get better,” he said. “We looked great in the first game of the week against Creston, and we did not so great against Grand Forks.”
The Leafs have been incredibly impressed with their goaltending and DiBella says that position has “probably earned us all of our points.” Rookie Jasper Tait is 3-0 to start with a 1.33 goals against average and .958 save percentage.
|With two wins in four games, Beaver Valley Nitehawks Head Coach & GM Terry Jones said his team has been quite inconsistent with their play.
“We need to start playing a full 60-minute game,” he said. “We have had some good moments though and we look to continue to improve on all facets, including playing hard without getting undisciplined penalties.”
Going 5-for-26 on the power-play tells Jones that area needs more work as he said they “are not doing the basic principles well enough.”
Jones said that rookie Kevin Unruh “had an amazing first game in the league getting a hat-trick” while Beau Manegre “has been a steady contributor and all three of our goaltenders (Nathan Presley, Connor Stojan and Zachary Mussio) have had solid starts.”
|The Castlegar Rebels have won two of their four games to open the season and are led by rookie Evan Calder who has four points. The Rebels recently split their games against Beaver Valley, a win, then dropped a 4-2 decision to Grand Forks. Ethan Lawczynski, who won 10 games last season, has both Rebel wins with a 2.27 goals against average and a .935 save percentage.