Brett Hawrys hit the relief valve with a shorthanded empty-netter as the North Okanagan Knights outlasted the Summerland Steam 3-1 in Kootenay International Junior Hockey League play Tuesday night at Summerland Arena.
The Knights’ Blake Culbert blocked a Summerland point shot, and Hawrys was first to the loose puck to put the game away with his sixth goal of the season.
The Knights, third in the Okanagan Division at 14-12-0-1, jumpstart a three-game weekend tonight (7:30) by hosting the last-place Princeton Posse (7-16-0-3) at Nor-Val Sports Centre.
They visit the division-leading Kelowna Chiefs (20-7-0-2) Saturday before returning to Armstrong Sunday to entertain the second-place Osoyoos Coyotes (16-12).
North Okanagan head coach Shawn Webb said Tuesday’s effort was a drastic improvement upon the team’s 6-1 loss Saturday in Castlegar.
“We can be so good and we can be so bad,” chuckled Webb. “If we can solve this Jeckyl and Hyde routine, we can definitely makes some noise in our league.
“We can look good on paper, but we need to execute. Until we start getting some consistency, you’re going to see three grumbly coaches.”
The Steam (12-12-1-1), featuring Riley Hunt, who was assigned to Summerland this week by the BCHL Salmon Arm SilverBacks, got on the board first with Kienan Scott’s team co-leading 11th goal at 7:09.
The Knights replied when forward-turned-defenceman Morgan Johnston (6th goal) walked the line and snuck a heavy wrister through traffic. Hawrys and Dennon Leibel worked the puck down low before setting up Johnston at the point.
Culbert (5th) buried the winner as he got rocked in front of the net after a textbook breakout with Tanner Cochrane and Johnston.
North Okanagan is 5-1 in its last six outings, and Webb credits the increasing maturity of his 17-year-olds, who are benefitting from the Knights’ veteran leadership.
“It’s like ‘You’re a Knight now. You’ve got your 20-plus games underneath you and now it’s time to run,’” said Webb. “The guys have really picked up on the team-first mentality.”
Zach Dyment finished with 29 saves for his eighth win. Brett Huber made 20 stops for Summerland.
Dyment was particularly sharp in the second period, said Webb.
“We kind of let them freewheel for a while.”