Something about the desert air agrees with the North Okanagan Knights.
The Knights built up a 5-1 lead in Osoyoos Wednesday, then held off a furious Coyotes comeback to post a 5-4 Kootenay International Junior Hockey League road win at the Sun Bowl Arena.
The victory lifted the Knights (15-25-0-0) into a tie for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Okanagan Shuswap Division with the idle Princeton Posse (13-25-1-3), and to within one point of the third-place Coyotes (14-24-2-1).
North Okanagan has won three of five against the Coyotes, including the last two in the South Okanagan. The teams play once more, Friday, Feb. 8, at the Nor-Val Sports Centre.
North Okanagan has eight regular season games remaining. They have a game in hand on the Posse, and have played the same amount of games as Osoyoos. The Knights host Princeton on Monday, Feb. 18.
Kevin-Thomas Walters and Jett Saharchuk scored two minutes apart late in the first period as the Knights opened the scoring, and goals from Nicholas Teale and Griffin Evans – his third in as many games – gave North Okanagan a 4-0 lead heading into the final 20 minutes.
Brandon Della Paolera broke Caedon Bellmann’s shutout bid with a powerplay marker at 2:47 of the third. Dylan Huber’s powerplay goal from Matthew Dolinar and Grady Caton at 7:26 gave North Okanagan what looked like an insurmountable four-goal cushion with only 12 minutes to go.
Cue the Coyotes’ rally.
Della Paolera got his second at 12:25, Bryson Garska made it 5-3 at 14:41, and Della Paolera completed his hat trick at 18:48. That would be as close as Osoyoos would get as the Knights held off the home team in the final 72 seconds to preserve the huge two-point win.
Bellmann finished with 26 saves. North Okanagan outshot the Yotes 33-30.
The Knights visit the league-leading Kelowna Chiefs (36-2-1-2) Friday, then entertain the 100 Mile House Wranglers (21-15-1-3), who are second in the Doug Birks Division, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Nor-Val Sports Centre.