Steven Pantazopoulos spent three seasons with the North Okanagan Knights, earning his shower every shift and practice.
His jersey No. 51 will be raised to the rafters tonight as the Knights entertain the Summerland Steam (7:00) in their final Kootenay International Junior Hockey League game before the Christmas break.
Pantazopoulos, a Kelowna product now playing for the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack, was the Knights’ captain last year. The gritty forward rung up 12 goals and 46 points in the regular season and added 14 points in 21 playoff games as the Knights reached the league playoff final.
“He was the prototypical Knight,” said North Okanagan head coach Shawn Webb. “He was as dedicated off the ice as he was on the ice. He took his responsibility as captain seriously and showed unprecedented leadership by helping the younger guys. He was respected by everybody.”
The Knights are in a three-way tie for ninth place overall in the 20-team Junior B loop. They lost 5-3 to the Okanagan Division-leading Kelowna Chiefs Saturday night in Rutland.
North Okanagan is without leading scorer Mat Lambert, 19, of Vernon, who left the team a week ago and requested a trade. Lambert pocketed 12 goals and 27 points in 29 games.
Webb said defenceman Justin Lange, 17, of Kelowna, left the Knights late last week for personal reasons. Lange had five assists in 30 games.
The Chiefs, playing without injured high-scoring Jagger Bowles, got two goals from Brady Mende and singles from Chase Astorino, Matt Naka and Adam Beatty.
Tanner Cochrane, with his ninth and 10th goals of the year, and T.J. Christensen, with his sixth, replied for the Knights (16-15-0-1).
“We were tied 3-3 after two and then they scored two powerplay goals (six minutes apart),” said rookie forward Logan Geefs, who drew the assist on Cochrane’s first goal. “We may have been frustrated but the (penalty) calls were a little iffy.”
The Knights held league points king Nick Josephs to one assist. Josephs, who has 34 goals and 69 points, has been summoned by the BCHL Salmon Arm SilverBacks three times this year.
Geefs, who figured the Knights were unprepared in their loss to Spokane Braves Friday night (Braves stunned Kelowna 7-0 Saturday), expects a stronger home effort tonight versus the 15-12-2-2 Steam.
“We really need these last two points in our division and then we can refocus after the break,” said Geefs, a Vernon product with 5-7-12 playing alongside local Blaine Caton.
Summerland shares third place with the Knights and have two games in hand.
The Knights visit the Princeton Posse for a New Year’s Day matinee and then host the Grand Forks Border Bruins Friday, Jan. 3 at Nor-Val Sports Centre.