If the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League preseason is anything to go by, the North Okanagan Knights look primed for another long march this season.
Shawn Webb’s Knights, who were KIJHL finalists last year, capped a 3-0 exhibition schedule Monday with a 9-2 thrashing of the Chase Heat at Nor-Val Sports Centre.
North Okanagan opens the regu- lar season tonight (7:30) against the Heat at Nor-Val before visiting the Princeton Posse Saturday.
“It wasn’t an enjoyable game for Chase,” said Webb, who is taking over head coaching duties from Kris Mallette, now an associate coach with the BCHL Vernon Vipers. “Running up the score is inevitable if we play a certain way.
“Our goal is to be in our zone for as short a time as possible. The offensive zone is where we go to have fun.”
What made Monday’s outcome more impressive is that Webb dressed just two veterans. Fourth-year forward Brett Hawrys was one of them, scoring three goals, while Tanner Burns, the team’s lone 20-year-old, chipped in with three assists as North Okanagan outshot Chase 68-15.
Justin Lange, a 17-year-old Kelowna product, and Vernon’s Blaine Caton, who played with the Knights as a 15-year-old call-up last season, each supplied 1+2. Dennon Leibel, another Vernon native, had two helpers.
“I really like our energy and our IQ level,” said Webb. “The kids are show- ing a definite willingness to learn.”
Another surprise Monday were the 200 fans who came to watch a Junior B exhibition game.
“There’s a lot of buzz around town, and as much as we’ve only got a frac- tion of returning players, those return- ing kids are carrying quite a mentality that’s rubbing off on our newbies,” said Webb. “We’re here to win hockey games.”
North Okanagan is rolling with a dozen rook- ies, including goaltenders Zach Dyment and Mitch Profeit, the younger brother of returning d-man Dryden Profeit.
Four of the Knights’ six defencemen are 1996- born players, which gave Webb some cause for con- cern heading into the season.
“They’re young, but their skill level was evident in these three games,” he said.
The Knights will miss the firepower of depart- ing forwards Matty Saharchuk (Vipers), Morgan Johnston (West Kelowna Warriors), Colton Thibault (Salmon Arm SilverBacks) and Derek Andrews, who aged out, but Webb feels they are deeper up front than last year.
Burns, Hawrys and Mat Lambert (Vernon) can be counted on to provide offence, while the line of Owen Barker, Anthony Ruggerio and newcomer Tyler Godberson of Calgary will offer plenty of grit and energy.
“Our style of play is going to frustrate teams,” said Webb, who had yet to finalize his letter wearers before the Morning Star’s Thursday press time.
Other North Okanagan products with the Knights include: forward Logan Geefs and blueliners Riley Booth, Austin Garrington and Matt Halvorson.