Summerland, BC – Heading into a set of games last weekend against the Revelstoke Grizzlies and the Sicamous Eagles on the road, the Summerland Steam were playing great hockey. They’d won five of their previous seven, and were finally healthy and finding some traction.
They headed for snowy Revelstoke on Friday with their health again dwindling. Team captain Cody Swan missed both games last weekend, just his second and third absences from the Steam lineup in three full seasons, due to an upper body injury. They were also without Mitch Gove, who was with the West Kelowna Warriors on an Affiliate Player assignment.
The weekend trip resulted in a pair of 6-3 losses, to Revelstoke on Friday and to the Sicamous Eagles on Saturday. Ty Banser (5), Liam McLaren (2) and Austin O’Neil (8) scored goals for the Steam on Friday, while a hat-trick and 4 points for Revelstoke defenseman Brendan Vulcano was the undoing of what was a pretty good effort despite the loss.
Saturday saw some things that I’ve never seen in my 7 years covering the league. Summerland began the game dominantly, owning possession time and shot share through the first 13 minutes. A power play goal from Sicamous’ Trevor Ebeling with 6:04 remaining in the first period was the beginning of an avalanche that undid the Summerland Steam. The Eagles scored three times in 39 seconds to jump to a 3-0 lead before the end of the first period.
To start the second, a dump in off the stick of Sicamous’ James Pedersen from the centre ice line found it’s way into the net via maybe the nastiest hop possible to make it 4-0.
Summerland did well to fight back, but couldn’t get close enough to tie the score. Morey Babakaiff (18) and Ty Banser (6) each scored to close the gap to 4-2, but the Eagles would get two late ones to regain their four goal lead.
Matthew Byrne would close out the scoring with his 5th of the season and 9th point in just his 8th game to round out the score in another 6-3 defeat.
With games against the Doug Birks Division teams dwindling, there’s never been a time in their history the Steam have been happier to see the last of them. They haven’t fared well against teams from the North end of the Okanagan/Shuswap Conference this season, collecting a 2-8-0-2 record with three games left to play. They’ll see each of Chase (road), Sicamous (road) and 100 Mile House (Home) one more time to close out their inter-division schedule.
It’s been the exact opposite inside their own division so far, and that’s good news with all but three of their remaining 12 games being played against divisional opponents. They’ve gone 9-4-0-1 against the likes of Kelowna, Princeton, North Okanagan and Osoyoos this season, and their success will have to continue if they want to be in the fight for home-ice advantage of any kind in the playoffs.
They’ll start their final trek through their own division this weekend, seeing their two closest geographical rivals in Osoyoos and Kelowna. Two teams at the opposite end of the Bill Ohlhausen Division Standings, the Osoyoos Coyotes and Kelowna Chiefs pose two very different tests for the Summerland Steam. The Coyotes, an extremely young hockey team with a young new coach are working to find their way as they hold onto their last grasps of playoff hope.
They’ve won just seven games this season, but four have come in their past ten contests. That includes a weekend sweep of Chase (2nd in Doug Birks Division) and Beaver Valley (2nd in Neil Murdoch Division) just prior to their holiday break. They currently sit nine points behind the 4th place North Okanagan Knights in the division standings, and hold two games in hand. The bottom line for the Coyotes is if they want to try to make the playoffs, they’ve got to pick up some points and they’ve got to start doing that ASAP.
The Kelowna Chiefs, meanwhile, have had smooth sailing at the top of the division from the very beginning of the KIJHL Regular Season. A veteran laden lineup full of returnees has propelled them to the top spot, although they’ve stumbled to a 5-4-1-0 record in their past ten contests.
Summerland has had great games against both division rivals this season, holding a 3-0-0-1 record against the Coyotes who they’ll see Friday, and a 2-1 record against the Kelowna Chiefs, whom they pay their final visit to on Saturday night at Rutland Arena. They’ll have to do so without Lane French, who will miss both weekend games due to suspension. Cody Swan is also questionable for the weekend set as he deals with an upper body injury.
Puck drop on Friday night’s game at the Summerland Arena goes at 7:30pm against the Osoyoos Coyotes, while the Steam will visit the Kelowna Chiefs Saturday night at 7:00pm at Rutland Arena.