Knights march into KIJHL action on preseason high

The North Okanagan Knights look to improve on a decent 18-win campaign last year when they open a three-game homestand tonight (7:00) at Nor-Val Sports Centre against the Sicamous Eagles.

Play stingy defence and earn the right to be creative on offence.

That’s the basic message head coach Kris Mallette will be sending to the North Okanagan Knights this Kootenay International Junior Hockey League season.

The Knights, coming off a decent 18-win campaign last year, open a three-game homestand tonight (7:00) at Nor-Val Sports Centre against the Sicamous Eagles.

North Okanagan entertains the Revelstoke Grizzlies Saturday night and hosts the Fernie Ghostriders in a Sunday 2 p.m. matinee.

Mallette, 32, was an assistant under Sylvain Leone (now assistant GM) last year and served under Brent Gilchrist with the provincial Midget AAA champion Kelowna Fripps Warehouse Rockets two seasons ago.

The Knights stopped the Kelowna Chiefs twice and split preseason games with the Grizzlies while racking up 22 goals.

“I’m happy with my forwards,” said Mallette, a former WHL Kelowna Rocket tough guy who was drafted third round by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1997. “We have a pretty dynamic bunch up front. We potted some goals and the guys worked hard.”

Tonight’s lineup and the one fans see at the end of the month will likely feature a handful of changes with the Knights waiting for BCHL teams to trim their rosters.

Mallette expects Kelowna brothers and veterans Eric and Patrick Chore to return from the Prince George Spruce Kings, where they are having strong camps but may be caught in the numbers game.

He figures defenceman David London is going to make the Cowichan Valley Capitals and says Vernon’s Thomas Swales is making a bid to crack the Nanaimo Clippers’ lineup.

Mallette was shocked when clutch 19-year-old d-man Taylor Greatrex of Armstrong quit the team Wednesday to pursue other life options.

Forward Tanner Burns, a late cut by the Vernon Vipers, hasn’t reported to the Knights after finishing strong in Armstrong late last season.

Vernon’s Chris Gillies, who played Midget AAA here last year, will join John Saunders of Kelowna (Okanagan Hockey Academy) and Californian Steve Sipprell as rookies on the back end. Vernon’s Nathan Browne (Kelowna Major Rockets) is serving a month-long suspension from last year.

Sean Mulcahy and Brendan Jost, both of Kelowna, are returning d-men.

Up front, back from last year are Cory Hochhausen, Steven Pantazopoulos and Josh Wickenheiser, all of Kelowna, Mateja Leko of California and Ben Greenaway of West Kelowna.

Newcomers include Carson McCulloch and Brady Janzen, both of Port Alberni, Justin Murray of Salmon Arm and 16-year-old Quinton Sutherland of Kelowna Midget AA.

Rookie netminder Colten Wright of Salmon Arm will carry the load in goal while the Knights search for an experienced No. 1 net detective.

“We’re going to be a hard-working team,” said Mallette. “We will be a very aggressive puck-pursuit team. If we don’t have the puck, we want it.”

The Knights, who traded veterans Colin Minardi (D) and Chris Hurry (G) to their hometown Summerland Steam, also dealt Armstrong’s Brett Hawrys to Kelowna and Zach Lindsay (F) to the Osoyoos Heat.

ICE CHIPS: With Summerland and the Chase Heat in the mix, there are 20 teams in the KIJHL. The Keystone Cup goes April 18-22, in Saskatoon…Ryan Scheidt, Jared Seutter, Armstrong’s Owen Barker, Ethan Kalugin and G Jordan Vallance are with Chase, while locals Alex Jewell and G Michael Hails are in Osoyoos…Mitchell Hewson, who played in Creston last year, is now with the Princeton Posse…The Major Midget Rockets have seven Vernon products: G Harrison Whitlock, d-men Aaron Benjaminsen, Mac Ferner and Jordan Burns and forwards Mat Lambert, Harlan Orr and Colton Thibault.