The North Okanagan Knights preached composure all week at practice. Without it, they likely wouldn’t have salvaged a much-needed point against the Sicamous Eagles.
The Knights battled back from a two-goal deficit to earn a 3-3 draw against the veteran Eagles in front of 320 Kootenay International Junior Hockey League fans Friday night at Nor-Val Sports Centre.
“Being as young as we are, we talked all week about staying composed,” said head coach Kris Mallette. “There were some tense moments on the bench, but we stayed with it.”
The tie puts North Okanagan (33-14-2-2) one point ahead of Sicamous (31-13-3-4) in the Doug Birks divisional race heading into the final day of regular-season play today. The Knights can clinch first place, along with home-ice advantage for the first two rounds of the post-season, with a win over the 11-33-3-3 Chase Heat today (2 p.m.) at Nor-Val.
The Eagles concluded their regular season Saturday night in Chase. A Sicamous loss would giftwrap first place for the Knights.
After an evenly played, scoreless first period, the Eagles capitalized on a defensive miscue by the Knights right off the opening faceoff of the second frame. It allowed second star Corbin Marcotte to go in on an odd-man rush, beating Dustin Nikkel for the first of his three goals (19th, 20th and 21st goals).
“He made us pay,” said Mallette. “Dusty didn’t really have a chance on it.”
Sicamous went up 2-0 with four minutes to play in the opening period, but the Knights responded just 32 seconds later when Derek Andrews (17th) deftly deflected a Dryden Profeit point shot past Eagles’ keeper Jack Surgenor (44 saves).
Colton Thibault showed good hustle down low and worked the puck back to Profeit for the second assist.
Thibault, a Vernon product, also factored in Mat Lambert’s equalizer with just over a minute to go in the period. Getting in on the forecheck, he forced a Sicamous miscue behind the net and found Lambert (20th), also from Vernon, lurking in the high slot.
Marcotte capped his hat trick on a man advantage in the opening minute of the final frame, but first star Brett Hawrys, coming in late on the rush, forced overtime with his 15th of the season.
“We generated a lot of opportunity,” said Mallette. “We had net presence, we had everything we talked about.”
Sicamous pulled Surgenor with a couple minutes to play in regulation.
“I was shocked,” said Mallette. “They put a lot of pressure on us.”
Regarding the Heat, Mallette added: “Chase could play spoiler and that’s the scariest part for me. We’ve had two opportunities we let slip through our hands.”