Summerland, BC – It’s been a minute, but the Summerland Steam are finally healthy. Or mostly healthy, at least. Missing just Austin O’Neil and Justin Swan due to injury/illness, and Cole Waldbillig due to an academic scholarship presentation, the Steam walked out of Rutland Arena this past Saturday with another big win over the Kelowna Chiefs.
On their teddy bear toss night, the Chiefs wasted no time opening the scoring and sending the fur flying. Logan Keating scored the teddy bear toss goal just 1:32 into the contest, banging home a rebound in front of Eric Scherger.
Once the carnage was cleaned up, Scherger would shut the door and allow the Steam to settle in. Matthew Byrne got the visitors on the board with his first KIJHL goal just a couple of minutes later, and it was one of the better solo efforts of the season.
Like a hot knife through butter, Byrne was able to slice his way through a combination of four Kelowna defenders before beating goaltender Braeden Mitchell with a backhand under the bar to tie the game at 1. After a back and forth first period, the score remained tied at 1 despite opportunities at each end. The score would stay locked at a goal apiece until Zack Cooper broke the tie in the strangest of ways with 7:33 to play in the second period.
Cooper and linemate Ty Banser got away clean on a 2-on-1, with Banser carrying the puck down the left wing side. He’s able to draw both the defender and the back-checker before feeding Cooper, who misses high and wide with the shot. The puck hits the end glass, bounces off the namebar of a surprised Braeden Mitchell, and falls into the back of the net. Cooper’s 7th of the season gives the Steam a 2-1 lead, which they would take with them to the third period of play.
Despite the shot clock not favouring the Steam at all, they were able to add two more early in the third period to give themselves a 4-1 lead on the road. Matthew Byrne notched his second of the game with a wicked wrister on the power play, thanks to some dogged work below the goal line by Cody Swan.
The Chiefs had two chances to clear on their power play, and were unable to do so. Swan was able to chase down Chiefs defender Jordan Lowry behind the goal, free the puck up and send it to the slot to a waiting Byrne. He made no mistake, ripping a shot over the blocker of Mitchell and into the top corner.
Swan would then add a goal of his own. Off a lost draw on a Kelowna power play, Swan knocked down a pass attempt and found himself away to the races with a clear lane down the left side. He outskated two defenders and fired a puck over Mitchell’s glove and under the bar to put the Steam up 4-1.
The shorthanded goal looked to be an insurance marker and possibly a dagger in the heart of the Kelowna Chiefs, but ended up standing as the game winning goal after a pair of late Chiefs goals. KC Cosgrove (5) and Myles Mattilla (8) added markers late for the home side, but the Steam found a way to shut the door and preserve a 4-3 victory.
Scherger would be snubbed of a game star in this game despite making 43 saves in the win. Not tested from the ‘Grade A scoring chance’ area a whole lot, he was as good as he needed to be. His best save of the night came late in the second period, stopping Kelowna’s second leading scorer, Porter Dawson, on a clear cut breakaway to keep the Steam up 2-1.
With the Steam nearing a return to full strength, it gives them the depth and options to run four forward lines, six defenseman and stand a chance to compete every single night. It’s a luxury that not many teams have at the KIJHL level, and it was evident as the game got late on Saturday night that it was something that favoured the visitors.
Jordon Woytas returned to the lineup against his former club after missing 29 games with a lower body injury, which bolstered Summerland’s depth greatly. He made an immediate impact, providing some stability down the middle and in the defensive zone that’s been missed since his exit from a September 14th contest against the North Okanagan Knights.
The team will now turn their attention to a Tuesday home date with the North Okanagan Knights at the Summerland Arena. The Knights will arrive having lost five straight, including losses in Kimberley (3-0) and Fernie (8-4) on Friday and Saturday nights. Once leaders of the Bill Ohlhausen Division, the Knights have fallen to fourth place and have struggled to find traction after being stripped of 8 points in late October. Those points were taken due to the use of an ineligible player, according to Hockey Canada and BC Hockey, and the appeal sent in by the Knights was unsuccessful.
The Steam, as mentioned, were back to nearly full man-power, and are expected to be on Tuesday night with the return of Austin O’Neil. O’Neil missed Saturday night’s contest with illness, and will be a game-time decision for Head Coach Ken Karpuk and the Steam on Tuesday. Justin Swan is considered day-to-day, and will also be a game-time decision.
Tuesday night is Summerland’s annual Toy Toss, so be sure to bring your family and friends, and your stuffies to throw on the ice when the Steam score their first goal. It’s a 7:30pm start and Nesters Market is our game sponsor, so come down and enjoy the show!