Nikkel steals OT win for Knights

Dustin Nikkel backstops North Okanagan Knights with 49-save performance in 3-2 OT win over Sicamous Eagles.

The North Okanagan Knights’ skaters might not be in mid-season form, but their goalie sure is.

Dustin Nikkel bailed his team out with a huge 49-save performance as the Knights outlasted the host Sicamous Eagles 3-2 in overtime in their season opener Friday night at the Recreation Centre.

Mac Ferner, the son of former Vernon Viper head coach Mark Ferner, supplied the winner with less than 30 seconds to play. Bursting through the neutral zone, Ferner fanned on his original shot, but recovered to send a wrister through traffic, beating netminder Kris Joyce, high blocker side.

“We were very fortunate to get out with two points,” said Knights’ head coach Kris Mallette.

“I was happy we put ourselves in a position to get a point, but by no means did we deserve that win.”

Mallette was neither disappointed, nor surprised by his team’s lack of early-season conditioning, adding it will take a few weeks before the Knights’ rookies become familiar with his systems.

“It was a short week of practice with our team,” he said. “You try and lay some foundation and hope that the kids will slowly pick up on it. It’s a lot for these kids to comprehend so quickly.

“In spurts, I saw what’s going to make us successful, and when we’re doing that, we’re a team in a good position.”

After allowing an early first-period goal, the Knights regrouped to equalize on a goal by returning forward Tanner Burns with five minutes to play in the frame. Matthew Saharchuk drew the assist.

North Okanagan carried the play in the second frame, but found themselves trailing again after a powerplay goal by the Eagles’ Connor Buick at 10:57.

Mat Lambert, a Vernon minor hockey product, forced overtime with a third-period tally, assisted by Saharchuk.

“He went down the wall and he’s got a very deceptive shot,” said Mallette. “It doesn’t look like he’s putting a lot into it, but he beat their goalie low blocker.”

For the bulk of the third period, and into overtime, Sicamous overwhelmed North Okanagan.

“We were sucking some serious wind, but Dusty weathered the storm and made some humongous saves,” said Mallette.

“(In OT), we’d try to go man-on-man and guys were tired, and Sicamous just pounded us.”

The Knights’ home opener goes today (2 p.m) against the Spokane Braves at Nor-Val Sports Centre.