North Okanagan Knights' Josh Wickenheiser (facing) slips a pass behind Sicamous Eagles' Daniel Anhorn in Kootenay International Junior Hockey League action Wednesday night at Nor-Val Sports Centre.

North Okanagan Knights' Josh Wickenheiser (facing) slips a pass behind Sicamous Eagles' Daniel Anhorn in Kootenay International Junior Hockey League action Wednesday night at Nor-Val Sports Centre.

Knights regroup for Stormy weekend

North Okanagan Knights prepare for weekend home-and-home with KIJHL-leading Kamloops Storm.

The North Okanagan Knights have no problems getting up for the big games. It’s the lower Kootenay International Junior Hockey League teams they are struggling with lately.

After squeaking out a 3-2 overtime win over the 12-15-0-2 Kelowna Chiefs last Friday, the Knights bowed 3-1 to the Sicamous Eagles Wednesday night at Nor-Val Sports Centre.

The Eagles, now 12-13-1-1, built up a 3-0 lead before forward Bryce Koch responded for the Knights, third in the Okanagan Shuswap Conference’s Doug Birks Division at 18-10-1-1.

“Throughout the whole night he (Koch) was competing on the boards and chasing loose pucks. He was by far our best player on the ice,” said Knights’ head coach Kris Mallette, adding a five-day layoff may have hindered North Okanagan’s motivation.

“After these long breaks where we play just one game on a weekend… the guys didn’t respond. We were just flat. Give Sicamous credit – they came out with a game-plan and stuck to it.”

Added Koch, a Kelowna product: “We just didn’t work as hard as we should have. We have to be more focussed. Our goal scorers have to be going and we have to play like they’re ahead of us in the standings.”

Connor Buick, with his 10th goal, got Sicamous on the board during a first-period powerplay. First star Brendan Devries and second star Connor Flynn, each with their 11th goals, converted five minutes apart in the second period.

Knights’ starter Colten Wright was chased after giving up three goals on 12 shots. Dustin Nikkel earned third star after stopping 10 shots in relief.

North Okanagan has three straight games against top-level teams, starting tonight against the league-leading Kamloops Storm (23-4-1-2) in Armstrong. After visiting the Storm Sunday at McArthur Park Arena, the Knights visit the Revelstoke Grizzlies Wednesday at the Forum. The Grizz are second in the Doug Birks at 20-6-0-1.

“We’ll see how they respond. They seem to rise to the occasion for stronger teams and play down to the teams below them,” said Mallette.

The Knights will need to be aware of the Storm’s top line of Tyler Jackson, Colten DeFrias and Chase Edwards, a trio of 20-year-olds in the KIJHL top-10 scoring. The unit has combined for 162 points.

“They’re a very potent line of older kids that know what they’re doing,” he said. “After the drubbing we gave them (8-2 win, Nov. 25) they’re definitely going to want to come out and have a better showing.

“They’re not a team that does things spectacularly, they’re a team that does a lot of little things very, very well.”

Meanwhile, in BCHL action Wednesday night, Mitch Gillam recorded 40 saves to earn first star as the host Chilliwack Chiefs outlasted the Merritt Centennials 2-1 at Prospera Centre.

Michael Spring and David Bondra (powerplay) pegged the 16-9-0-1 Chiefs to a two-goal lead with second-period goals before veteran defenceman Billy Marshall responded for Merritt (15-8-2-4) with a man-advantage snipe later in the frame.

The Vernon Vipers, clinging to fourth in the Interior Conference at 13-11-1-2, hosted the last-place Trail Smoke Eaters (5-18-1-3) Thursday night and are at Royal LePage Place tonight to face former Viper Marcus Basara and the Westside Warriors (9-14-0-5).

Basara, who along with Red Deer native Connor Hartley, was dealt to the AJHL Okotoks Oilers in exchange for Ben Gamache, has one goal in four games since landing in Westside.