North Okanagan Knights ready for KIJHL playoffs
As they headed into their final regular-season date with the host Chase Heat Saturday night, the North Okanagan Knights still don’t know who they would be facing in the Round 1 of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League playoffs.
The one thing they do know is their postseason will start on the road as they can finish no higher than third in the Okanagan Shuswap Conference’s Doug Birks division.
With the 36-11-0-3 Revelstoke Grizzlies and 34-10-1-6 Kamloops Storm sharing the Doug Birks penthouse at 75 points apiece (Revelstoke has a game in hand), either one could finish as the top seed.
Revelstoke visited the Sicamous Eagles (21-27-1-1) Saturday night and complete a home-and-home with them today at the Forum. The Storm wrap up their schedule by hosting the 14-34-0-2 Summerland Steam today at McArthur Park Arena.
Knights’ head coach Kris Mallette wasn’t about to reveal who he felt would be a better first-round matchup for North Okanagan (34-16-0-1). His club held its own with both teams in their regular-season series, shading the Storm 5-3, and falling 5-3 to Revelstoke, including a 4-3 loss Friday night at the Forum.
“Anything can happen in playoffs and I like our chances against either team,” said Mallette. “It’ll make for an interesting series with either one.”
The Knights begin their best-of-seven first round Friday and Saturday on the road. They host Games 3 and 4 next Monday and Tuesday at Nor-Val Sports Centre.
As has been the case against Revelstoke most of the year, the Knights spotted the Grizz an early lead and were forced to play catchup the rest of the game Friday night.
Goals by Kyle Schwartz (29th goal) and Braeden Monk (27th) had Revelstoke up 2-0 just over two minutes into the game.
“Too little too late, and that seems to be the common trend when we play Revelstoke,” said Mallette. “We outplayed them for 52 minutes, but good teams find a way to hold on, and they did.”
Eric Chore (22nd) gave North Okanagan a little life with a powerplay goal late in the first period. Tanner Burns and Cory Hochhausen took turns working the puck down low before finding Chore in the slot.
Another pair of quick goals in the second frame by Revelstoke’s TJ Christensen (6th) and first star Riley Spraggs of Vernon (17th) cushioned the hosts’ lead, but the Knights kept chipping away.
With 6:45 to go in the second period, Ben Greenaway (8th) made it 4-2 with a nice second effort in close to beat netminder Conrad McMillan, a Vernon product who recorded 36 stops. North Okanagan’s Chris Gillies, another Vernon native, kept the play alive at the blueline and fired on net.
Josh Klein (6th) capped a nice three-way passing play with Brett Hawrys and Burns when his shot hit a skate and redirected past McMillan in the third period.
The Knights pulled Dustin Nikkel (29 saves) with less than two minutes to play, and although they kept pressure in the Grizzlies’ zone, they were unable to convert.