North Okanagan Knights strike first

North Okanagan Knights ice Sicamous Eagles 6-5 in OT to take Game 1 of KIJHL Doug Birks Division final Monday in Armstrong.

They chased the starting goalie, built up a four-goal lead and were doing all the right things in Game 1 of their Doug Birks Division final Monday night at Nor-Val Sports Centre.

However, it took a Matty Saharchuk slap shot in overtime before the North Okanagan Knights could breathe easy as they iced the Sicamous Eagles 6-5 to open their best-of-seven Kootenay International Junior Hockey League series.

Game 2 went Tuesday night in Armstrong, with the third and fourth tilts slated for Thursday and Friday respectively at the Sicamous Rec Centre.

With 6:58 remaining in the first OT, Saharchuk walked over the blueline and ripped a slapper past relief tender Kris Joyce in front of more than 400 fans.

“It’s probably the third slap shot I’ve seen him take this year,” smiled Knights’ head coach Kris Mallette, who credited Joyce for steadying the Eagles in a difficult situation.

“He gave them every opportunity and they just built momentum off his strong play.”

Joyce recorded 28 saves in relief of Jack Surgenor, who allowed five goals on nine shots. He stopped a trio of breakaways, including a beauty save on Knights’ rookie Colton Thibault in the final minute to send it to extra time.

Dustin Nikkel recorded 22 saves for the Knights.

The Knights were up 5-1 with five minutes to go in the second period before the Eagles responded.

Thibault scored 20 seconds into the game and added another in the second frame. Captain Steve Pantazopoulos also fired a pair, beating Surgenor with carbon-copy blasts from the top of the circle.

“His shot was bang on,” said Mallette.

Morgan Johnston supplied the Knights’ other regulation goal, burying a tap-in after Pantazopoulos fanned on a sharp-angle shot.

The Eagles’ Corbin Marcotte jumpstarted the Sicamous comeback with a shorthanded goal in the second frame and forced OT with 1:22 to play. Brendan Devries scored late in the first period and added a powerplay marker with 3:23 left in regulation. Jordan Harder had the other Eagles’ snipe.

“The goals that they scored were hard working,” said Mallette. “A couple lucky bounces but it’s the same as our goals.

“I’m proud of the guys for finding a way to win. We did everything right, we got off to the start we wanted, we were filling lanes very well.

“We know we’re in for a battle. It’s exciting not only for the players and the fans.”

Meanwhile, Mallette was surprised when he was honoured with the KIJHL Coach of the Year in a pre-game ceremony Monday. League president Bill Ohlhaussen was on hand to present him with the award, which is chosen by the league’s coaches.

“They appreciated how he brought the team on this year,” said Ohlhaussen, who praised Mallette’s ability to develop players.

“We want young kids to get some leg time and out of here to either Junior A or the Western Hockey League. We’re here as a training ground. The coaching we’ve had over the past number of years is getting better all the time.”

Added Pantazopoulos: “He keeps things simple, he always just makes us worry about our game and he knows how to move players up, which speaks for itself.”