North Okanagan Knights eager for title shot

North Okanagan Knights one win from KIJHL playoff title shot.

Things seemed to happen in twos for the North Okanagan Knights Tuesday (or should it be Twosday) night in Osoyoos.

Colton Thibault scored twice, Connor Richards bagged a pair and Steve Pantazopoulos added two assists as the Knights stopped the host Coyotes 5-1 in Game 4 of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s Okanagan/Shuswap Conference final.

Pantazopoulos also deposited a pair of teeth on the Sun Bowl ice surface Tuesday night. The gritty Kelowna captain took a follow-through in the face as an Osoyoos defender cleared a puck during a Knights’ powerplay. There was no call on the play.

Pantazopoulos underwent double root canal Wednesday, but was expected to dress as North Okanagan looked to eliminate Osoyoos in Game 5 Thursday at Nor-Val Sports Centre. If necessary, Game 6 goes tonight at the Sun Bowl, with Game 7 set for Sunday night (7:30) in Armstrong.

“We’ve got guys that are playing hurt, but everybody’s excited at the possibility (of going to the league final) so they’re just sucking it up,” said North Okanagan head coach Kris Mallette.

The Knights will be without rugged winger Owen Barker for at least a week as he left Tuesday’s game with an “upper-body” injury. As a result, Mallette called up Vernon’s Logan Geefs for Game 5.

Mallette has thrown his reserve players into the fray, and they have rewarded him with some honest minutes. Vernon’s Curtis Sexsmith drew an assist on Richard’s first goal, and 15-year-old Blaine Caton (3rd goal), also of Vernon, buried North Okanagan’s final snipe late in the third period.

Caton got in a lane to knock down an Osoyoos point shot and scampered in on a breakaway, beating Jesse Gordichuk with a beauty forehand-backhand deke.

Thibault (8th, 9th) opened the scoring in the first period while the ice was still wet. After North Okanagan got the puck deep, he picked off an ill-advised clearing attempt and ripped a wrister past Gordichuk from the high slot at the 30-second mark.

“It definitely got everybody into the game,” said Thibault, a Vernon Secondary student. “We all had pressure on us to supply the goals.”

Thibault scored his second of the night, and ninth of the post-season, at the three-minute mark. Richards (2nd, 3rd) made it 3-0 after 20 minutes, and he deflected a Mac Ferner point shot for the lone second-period tally.

Evan Last solved Knights’ keeper Dustin Nikkel on a third-period man advantage.

“Dusty, in the third period in particular, came up big for us,” said Mallette. “I wish we had a shutout for him.

The week-long break before this series helped the Knights heal, but Thibault said it also took them a game to get back in the groove. The Knights have outscored Osoyoos 15-2 in the last three games.

“Once we got that first game out of the way we started playing relentless again,” said Thibault. “From the start of the season we’ve always talked about making it to league final, even being a younger team. Now we have a chance to do that.”

Meanwhile, the Castlegar Rebels completed a sweep of the Golden Rockets with a 3-2 win in Game 4 of the Kootenay Conference final Tuesday at Golden Arena.

The league championship is slated to begin Tuesday.

n All but one of the BCHL’s second-round series matchups have been determined.

The Penticton Vees, who swept the Salmon Arm SilverBacks in Round 1, are awaiting the winner of the other Interior Division series between the West Kelowna Warriors and Merritt Centennials.

The Vees will have had nine days off before the Interior final begins next Friday.

Rylan Ferster’s Warriors led the best-of-seven set 3-1 heading into Game 5 Thursday at Royal LePage Place.

Reid Simmons scored the winner with 3:52 to play as West Kelowna grounded the Cents 3-2 in Game 4 Tuesday in Merritt.

In the Coastal Conference bracket, featuring best-of-five series, Adam Tambellini’s Surrey Eagles host the Chilliwack Chiefs in Game 1 of the second round tonight at South Surrey Arena.

Tambellini, a former Vernon Viper, recorded a hat trick as the Eagles eliminated the Langley Rivermen with a 6-3 win in Game 4 Tuesday.

Vernon’s Tanner Burns had a goal for Chilliwack in their Round 1 series with the Prince George Spruce Kings.

Captain Zach Urban recorded a highlight-reel OT winner as the Victoria Grizzlies grounded the Powell River Kings 3-2 in Game 5 to advance to the second round.

The Grizz, featuring former Vipers Turner Lawson and Pearce Eviston, will meet the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, who eliminated the Nanaimo Clippers 2-1 in Game 5 Tuesday.

Mike Vandekamp’s Clippers now have to tread water until they host the inaugural Western Canada Cup, April 27-May 5. The five-team tournament features the B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba champions, and host Clippers. The winner and runners-up advance to RBC Cup nationals, May 11-19 in Summerside, P.E.I.