The North Okanagan Knights are first in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.
The Knights, winners of five straight, overtook the Osoyoos Coyotes, losers of their last four, following Saturday’s 5-4 win over the Revelstoke Grizzlies at the Forum.
“We came out very sluggish and got down early, but we’ve been resilient in the last five games where we haven’t played 60 minutes but have found ways to win hockey games,” said Knights’ assistant coach Shawn Webb.
North Okanagan hosts the Chase Heat (4-11-1-1) tonight at Nor-Val Sports Centre, and the Summerland Steam (6-8-0-1) Friday night in Armstrong. The Knights visit the Princeton Posse (9-6) Saturday.
Revelstoke (8-6-1-1) went up 2-0 on goals by Dayne Anderson (2nd goal) and Spencer Samuel (12th) before Colton Thibault (5th) responded for the 12-2-0-1 Knights on the powerplay late in the first period.
“We carried the brunt of the play after the first 10 minutes,” said Webb. “After we scored our first goal, you could see the kids get back on board.”
Vernon’s Connor Richards, playing more of an offensive role, collected his second of the season (his first was an empty-netter) 8:38 into the second period.
North Okanagan’s Mat Lambert (9th) and Revelstoke’s Jordan Furlane (1st) traded singles 29 seconds apart later in the second before back-to-back powerplay goals a minute apart by Brett Hawrys (3rd) and Matty Saharchuk (8th) put the Knights up for good. Jordan Holloway (2nd) brought the Grizz within a goal early in the third period.
Tyler Bolduc and captain Steve Pantazopoulos finished the night with two assists each.
Webb said the unit of Derek Andrews, 20, and rookies Saharchuk and Thibault, has been North Okanagan’s most consistent of late.
“The three of them down low just cannot be stopped right now,” said Webb. “Andrews is so tenacious down low and it’s brought those two 17-year-olds to life.
“The chaos that Derek creates, those two just feed off it.”
Webb also praised the play of Vernon Midget Viper call-up Logan Geefs, especially once he settled down.
“His energy was just great. He got killed early in the game, but rebounded well.”
Dustin Nikkel finished with 32 saves for his ninth win. Vernon’s Aaron Brandoli had 29 saves for Revelstoke.
Webb and head coach Kris Mallette felt they had the makings of a solid team at camp, but admitted to being slightly surprised by the Knights’ early rise to the KIJHL penthouse.
“We’re definitely ahead of schedule,” said Webb. “It’s just a case of reminding them why we’re good. We outwork every team we play.
“We’ve got great team speed and we’ve got great energy, but when we go freelance things break down a bit.”
Meanwhile, the Coyotes dipped to 12-6 after a pair of weekend losses at the Sun Bowl. They fell 1-0 to the Kimberley Dynamiters Saturday night, and 5-1 to the Kelowna Chiefs Sunday.