After losing to the last-place Princeton Posse Friday night, the North Okanagan Knights knocked off the top two teams in the Okanagan Division of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.
The Knights surprised the first-place Kelowna Chiefs 3-2 Saturday night in Rutland and then brushed off the second-place Osoyoos Coyotes 5-4 in a Sunday matinee at Nor-Val Sports Centre. The Knights are 16-13-0-1 and third, one point behind the Coyotes.
“We played really well in both games,” said Vernon product Dennon Leibel, who scored twice against Kelowna and once versus Osoyoos, giving him five on the season. “We’re coming together and our defensive game has really improved. Our big guys are coming through with some big hits to get us going.”
Ryan Kelm, (fourth), captain TJ Christensen, with (fifth), Brett Hawrys (seventh) and Morgan Johnston also had Knights’ snipes Sunday. Johnston’s seventh of the year came on the powerplay with 2:32 left in the third period. Tanner Cochrane and Blake Culbert drew assists.
Rory Neary, Colin Chmelka, Aaron Azvedo and Jackson DeMatos replied for the 17-13 Coyotes, who outshot the Knights 47-33. Zach Dyment took the win, Lawrence Langan the loss before 100 fans.
Nick Josephs produced his 34th snipe, on an early powerplay, to give Kelowna the lead Saturday. Leibel, on the powerplay, and Christensen, put the Knights up 2-1 after one period in front of 250 fans.
Leibel, from d-man Ryley Booth, made it 3-1 Knights early in the second period. Colton Dachwitz had the Chiefs’ goal in the third with Kelowna outshooting North Okanagan 19-8.
“They were going in off the post in Kelowna and in North Ok, I put it in an open net,” laughed Leibel, a rookie who played Major Midget in Kelowna last year. “The goalie tried to dump it down and he gave it right to me.”
The skate-till-ya-drop Leibel is having a blast playing with Enderby’s Hawrys, and Logan Mostat of Salmon Arm.
“I like playing with Hawrys; he’s a really good player. We find each other out there. Mostat is a grinder with good hands so when we get in the offensive zone, we’re not afraid to give it to him.”
Dyment went the distance, as did Connor DeMelo of the 20-8-0-3 Chiefs.
“Zach really came through for us against Kelowna,” said Leibel. “They had a couple of powerplays and he came up big.”
North Okanagan entertain the Spokane Braves (10-18-0-3) Friday night before visiting the Chiefs Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile, former Vernon Laker forward Darren Naylor resigned as coach of the KIJHL Revelstoke Grizzlies on Friday, citing family reasons.
Naylor was commuting from Vancouver and quit following a practice on Thursday.
On Friday, he told the Times Review he had resigned before he told owner Lewis Hendrickson the news.
“Basically my No. 1 thing is my family,” he said. “I’ve been traveling back and forth between there and the coast and it’s weighing on me.”
Naylor inherited a team that had done no recruiting and attempted to assemble a competitive roster as players came and went from Revelstoke. His departure appeared to buoy the spirits of the Grizz.
“Something had to lift the spirits here, something had to change,” said captain Devon Hascarl, a Vernon product. “It’s never easy bringing somebody new in, re-learning everything, but then again, the guys are excited for a change.”
On the ice, the Grizzlies lost 10-2 to the Chase Heat Sunday in Revelstoke after bowing 6-2 to the Sicamous Eagles.