For a while, it looked like business as usual for the North Okanagan Knights Friday night at Nor-Val Sports Centre.
Leading by a pair of goals in the first period, the Knights were in full control against the Osoyoos Coyotes in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Kooteney International Junior Hockey League’s Okanagan/Shuswap Conference final.
However, the Coyotes responded with a huge second period, burying four unanswered goals en route to a 6-2 win in front of nearly 400 fans.
Colton Thibault, on a terrific second-effort wraparound, and Matty Saharchuk, fighting off a check in the corner before banking a sharp-angle shot off netminder Jesse Gordichuk, accounted for North Okanagan’s offence.
Referee Brent Hazel waved off what would have been a third Knights goal, saying the net came off its moorings before Derek Andrews redirected a centering feed by Thibault on a 3-on-2 rush.
The Coyotes started rolling late in the first period as Liam Neary beat netminder Austin Buzzell clean from the top of the circle one second after an Osoyoos 5-on-3 had expired.
North Okanagan head coach Kris Mallette said the non-goal, coupled with the call that resulted in the two-man advantage (a questionable slashing minor to Andrews), shook his team’s focus.
“Our guys were working extremely hard down low and just not getting the breaks,” he said. “They were getting frustrated because they weren’t getting rewarded with goals or calls, and it just imploded from there.
Andrew Stack, Alex Grupe and 20-year-old sniper Garrett Kucher, with a pair, replied for Osoyoos in the second period. Rory Neary rounded out the scoring in the final frame.
Mallette credited the Coyotes for weathering the early storm and disrupting the Knights’ rhythm.
“They played an extremely good road game, kind of like what we would do. Our guys just didn’t respond.
“They really shut it down in the third and forced us to play uncharacteristic. We looked very scrambly and were pressing the issue.”
Mallette pulled Buzzell after he allowed four goals on 18 shots. Dustin Nikkel surrendered a deuce of 11 shots.
Gordichuk was named first star for his 39-save showing.
Mallette had full confidence his team would come out refocussed in Game 2, which went Saturday night in Armstrong. The third and fourth tilts are slated for Monday and Tuesday night (7:35) at the Sun Bowl.
“No way did I expect this series was going to go four games either way,” he said.