The North Okanagan Knights finally found that strong start they were missing late in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League season.
With their postseason in jeopardy, the Knights came out hard and were rewarded with a 3-2 win over the Kamloops Storm in Game 3 of their best-of-seven, first-round playoff series Monday night at Nor-Val Sports Centre.
North Okanagan trailed 2-1 in the series heading into Game 4 Tuesday night at Nor-Val, with Game 5 slated for Thursday (7 p.m.) in Kamloops.
Conflicting ice schedules in Armstrong have resulted in Game 6 (if necessary) going Friday night at Wesbild Centre.
Even in dropping the first two games last weekend, including a 4-3 loss in Game 2 Saturday night at McArthur Island Arena, Knights’ head coach Kris Mallette liked his team’s jump.
“Our starts were suspect, but at least we’re coming out,” he said. “We’re not being rewarded but at least we’re coming out ready to play in the first period.
“We’ve played very well for the majority of this series. On the mistakes we make, which aren’t too many, they capitalize on.”
Knights’ forward Tanner Burns opened the scoring on a first-period powerplay, firing his heavy shot through a defender’s legs to beat netminder Marcus Beesley from the top of the circle at 10:08.
“He got himself open and rather than trying to make that extra move, he just let the shot go. It was nice to see,” said Mallette.
Kamloops’ sniper Tyler Jackson collected both of the Storm’s goals, the first coming on a 5-on-3 man advantage in the first period. His second came less than two minutes after the Knights’ Cory Hochhausen restored the lead on a 5-on-3 in the second frame.
Similar to Burns’ goal, Eric Chore used a d-man as a screen to put one by Beesley and complete the scoring with 40 seconds to play in the second period.
Tempers heated up late in the third period after Jackson hit Knights’ defenceman Chris Gillies from behind. The Storm’s Brett Dallen picked up two misconducts, a game misconduct and a roughing minor after the whistle. The scorekeeper listed Chase Edwards as also earning a game misconduct, however, Mallette believed it was Jackson who received the penalty as part of the hit from behind.
“Jackson’s not that type of player,” said Mallette. “It was just him trying to go in to finish his check and Gillies just trying to escape. You can’t fault either guy, but the referee at that point has to make that call.”