North Okanagan Knights limp into break

North Okanagan Knights banged up as they head into final game against Kamloops Storm before Christmas break

The North Okanagan Knights played their fourth game in five nights Tuesday, and it showed on the scoreboard at Rutland Arena.

The Knights spotted the host Kelowna Chiefs a three-goal lead and fell short in a third-period rally, bowing 3-1 in the Kootenay International Hockey League play.

Mat Lambert scored the consolation goal for North Okanagan. The Vernon product skated onto a dump-in behind the Kelowna defence and beat Kenny Fitzgerald with a backhander for his 13th of the season, four minutes into the third period.

“It wasn’t a terrible game on our part, but we weren’t executing and we didn’t have the emotion needed,” said Knights’ head coach Kris Mallette.

“They found themselves behind the eight-ball and put together a pretty good third period.”

The Knights, second in the Doug Birks Division at 20-10-1-2, wrap up their pre-Christmas schedule Friday against the host Kamloops Storm (13-17-2-4) at McArthur Island Arena. They visit the Chase Heat (7-24-3-1) on New Year’s Eve.

Mallette said the busy lead-up to the holidays, combined with the flu running through the roster, is taking its toll on the Knights.

“We’ve got the walking wounded right now. No one’s really injured, but it’s making its way through the team right now.

“They get pretty excited (about the break) and lose focus. It’s the first time away from home for a lot of these guys.”

Brady Mende collected his 11th and 12th of the season, both on the powerplay, to lead the 20-12-1 Chiefs. Jordan Lingel (3rd) supplied a single.

Fitzgerald made 36 stops for his ninth win. The 18-year-old Burnaby native’s 1.87 goals-against average tops the KIJHL.

Buzzell had 32 saves for the Knights.

Meanwhile, former Knights’ keeper Dustin Nikkel has been released from the BCHL’s Salmon Arm SilverBacks for breaking team policy.

Nikkel, 19, was 2-0 with a 2.31 GAA and .919 save percentage in three appearances with the ‘Backs.