The strides made by the North Okanagan Knights have not gone unnoticed by the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.
A year after posting 11 wins in their expansion year, the Knights went 18-30-1-1 in their 2010-11 campaign, recording the largest improvement of any Okanagan-Shuswap Conference club. Only the Castlegar Rebels, who had a dozen more wins than last season, fared better.
Piloting the North Okanagan crew was first-year head coach Sylvain Leone, who was named the Doug Birks Division Coach of the Year.
“It is always nice to get recognized as a staff, but there’s a lot of good coaches in this league, and a lot of other deserving coaches as well,” said Leone, formerly the coach of the Thompson-Okanagan Midget AAA female Rockets.
Knights’ veteran Colin Minardi appreciates Leone’s all-inclusive approach to the game.
“He is all about developing players. He’s not worried as much about the record. By him focussing on us as players, it made us better as the season went on,” said the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Summerland product.
“The way he played everyone at the beginning of the season, a lot of our younger guys developed a lot faster than they would on another team.”
Minardi also earned a nod at the KIJHL year-end awards, picking up the Doug Birks Most Sportsmanlike Player. The 19-year-old also pocketed the Knights’ Most Valuable Player at an awards banquet at The Odd Fellows Hall in Armstrong.
Said Leone: “He captures the spirit of the award – someone who competes hard every day, but isn’t a dirty player. He plays the game the way it’s meant to be played.
“He’s quiet in the dressing room, but he does the right things to make sure his performance is at a high level.”
Collecting the team’s Rookie of the Year honours was Kelowna’s Eric Chore, whose twin brother Patrick also skates with the club.
“Very high hockey IQs, both of them,” said Leone, noting Eric is the grittier, more defensive-minded of the two, while Patrick is more of a puck savvy playmaker.
“We could have picked one or two other guys and no one would have had an argument.”
Leone said forward Steve Pantazopolous was a shoe-in for the Citizenship Award.
“He always raised his hand for community activities. He never looked around the room to see who else had their hands raised,” said Leone.
“We always got great feedback from organizers and volunteers from those events.”
Regarding Pantazopolous’ on-ice performance, Leone added: “He has always had the pulse of this team. In the second half of the year, he was a monster for us.”
Walking home with the team’s Most Sportsmanlike honour was 18-year-old blueliner Taylor Greatrex.
“He’s a big rugged defenceman that plays hard day in and day out. Just a real honest player that doesn’t need to be dirty to be effective,” said Leone of the Armstrong native.