Summerland, BC – With their eyes on securing a post-season birth and working towards home ice advantage, the Summerland Steam set out last weekend looking for four points in a pair of divisional games. At this time of year, these divisional games play a major role in deciding seeding for the KIJHL playoffs, and the Steam found themselves on the right end of a pair of games against the Osoyoos Coyotes and Kelowna Chiefs.
They hosted the Coyotes on Friday at the Summerland Arena, looking to make the Coyotes playoffs hopes more of a pipe dream than a possibility. Nine points behind the fourth place North Okanagan Knights, the Coyotes have to try and find a way to make up some ground if they’re going to participate in the 2020 KIJHL Playoffs. They’ve got a kit if ground to make up in a short period of time, and heading into the weekend it looked like a possibility if they could pick up a couple of wins.
Summerland wanted to ensure they did all they could to prevent it, and it ended up working out well for them despite a bit of a slow start.
Those Coyotes are a pesky bunch who’ve got plenty of fight left in them, and they found themselves with a 2-0 lead early in the first period. Dylan Stevenson and Seth Kriese each tallied a goal for the ‘Yotes, before Austin O’Neil found the back of the net with a pinball shot to cut the lead in half near the midway mark of the first period.
Tyler Russell would notch his first as a Coyote before the end of the period, a frame that saw the Coyotes feeling pretty good heading to the dressing room with a 3-1 lead. They hung with the Steam for the first period, and found the difference on the scoreboard by simply capitalizing on their chances.
In the second, however, it was Summerland’s turn to capitalize. Matthew Byrne would score his 6th of the season on a power play, racing down the right wing and beating Coyotes’ goaltender Curt Doyle through the wickets to cut the lead to a single goal. Byrne, playing in just his 9th game for the Steam since joining the club in December, has found some chemistry with linemates Morey Babakaiff and Liam McLaren, as well as finding a solid role as a trigger man on the Summerland power play.
Austin O’Neil would then score his second of the night and 10th of the season a couple of minutes later to tie the game at three. A good low point shot from Ryan Allen found it’s way to the front of the net, where a rebound fell right to O’Neil at the right post for a tap in. Mitch Gove would draw the secondary assist on the goal that tied the game at 3.
The teams would go to the second intermission locked in a tie, and it would stay that way until the midpoint of the third period. As Summerland continued to put pucks on Curt Doyle, it looked as though Doyle was going to be the X-Factor in getting the Coyotes at least one, if not two points. The Steam finally broke through with 10:59 to play in the third period, as Ty Banser found his way to the front of the net and benefited from good work below the goal line by his linemates. Austin O’Neil and Mitch Gove would both draw assists on Banser’s 7th of the season as he found a puck in the slot and ripped a backhand high over the glove of Doyle to give the Steam a 4-3 lead.
It would stand to be the game winner, with many thanks to Steam goaltender Eric Scherger. Scherger made 14 saves in the third period, eleven of them in the final nine minutes, to preserve what would turn into a 5-3 Steam victory after an empty net tally by Morey Babakaiff.
Babakaiff’s 18th of the season came shorthanded, while the Steam were killing a penalty in the final 1:45 of regulation.
The win propelled Summerland into their Saturday night game with some confidence. They headed north to play their biggest rival, the Kelowna Chiefs, for the third and final time at Rutland Arena this season. With some franchise history on the line, the night began much like the night before, with the opposition scoring early.
Myles Mattilla would open the scoring for the hometown Chiefs midway through the first period, finding room down the right side and beating Scherger from a sharp angle to give the home team a 1-0 lead.
Despite the goal and being outshot 10-2, the Steam controlled their share of zone time early in the hockey game, and were able to finally get on the board with their third shot of the game just 1:16 after the Chiefs got on the board.
Sometimes when you’re missing your top three scorers (Cody Swan, Lane French, Austin O’Neil) like the Steam were on Saturday, the offense has to come from some unfamiliar places. It doesn’t get any more unfamiliar than a goal from 20-year old defender Ante Mustapic, who until Saturday night hadn’t scored a goal in over four calendar years.
His last came December 10, 2015 as a member of the then Langley Knights (now Surrey Knights), and he was just as surprised as anyone that he tallied another on Saturday. After good work down low the puck cycled out to the right point, where Mustapic put a shot towards goal. It’s unknown whether it took a deflection on the way in, but the puck hit the right post, and then Chiefs goaltender Braeden Mitchell in the back, before travelling across the goal line to tie the game at 1.
Kelowna’s Blaine Worthing would then capitalize on a power play with 4:48 to play in the first period, giving the Chiefs their lead back. After Mitch Gove was assessed a big boom penalty (charging, according to the referee), the Chiefs went to work on the power play. Worthing was able to get in the kitchen of Eric Scherger, and put a puck home as he was falling on top of the Summerland goaltender to give the Chiefs their lead.
They’d go to the break with the lead, and then add to it in the second period thanks to a goal from rookie Logan Keating. After a rush up ice by the Steam, the Chiefs came back the other way with numbers. Keating, coming down the right side, looked for streaking defenseman Jordan Lowry for a back-door tap in. Instead, the pass deflected off the skate of a Summerland defender and behind Scherger to extend the Chiefs lead to 3.
It was evident that the Steam were going to have to work hard to find their way back in, and they were able to do so just like the night before. Some good work on a forecheck by Zack Cooper produced their second goal of the night, as Ethan Grover made a nice move in front for his third of the season. The goal came with 12:12 to play in the second period, getting the visiting Steam back to within a goal.
The score would hold through the second, and set up a comeback attempt late in the third for a Steam squad who worked their tails off to keep the game tied. As time began to get scarce, it looked as though the Chiefs may skate away with their first home ice win against the Steam in three attempts this season. Thanks to Steam forward Matthew Byrne, it wasn’t going to be easy for them.
With 1:24 to play in the third period, Byrne tied the game with his 7th of the season as he beat Mitchell high over the blocker from the right wing side. Ethan McLaughlin started the play from behind the Summerland net, finding Morey Babakaiff on the left wing side. Having to take the puck on his backhand, Babakaiff swept the puck cross ice to open space for Byrne to skate on to. He did so, beating a Kelowna defender wide and firing a shot cross-net into the far side top corner to tie the game at 3.
As overtime loomed, the Steam had successfully secured five of a possible six points on the road against Kelowna this season. They were looking for all six, to make it the first time in franchise history they would be able to sweep a season series against a team coached by Ken Law.
Eric Scherger was forced to make a couple of key saves early in overtime, including a point blank stop on Chiefs forward Ryan Antonakis to have the game continue on. Not long after that save was made, a good forecheck from the Steam resulted in a power play after Jordan Lowry tripped up Mitch Gove below the goal line.
The power play wouldn’t last long, as off the opening face-off Gove retrieved a puck and found McLaughlin at the point. As Summerland got to their spots, McLaughlin found Gove on the right flank, who went through the Kelowna Chiefs PK triangle to find Matthew Byrne. He one-timed a puck into the top corner, his 8th of the season in just 10 games, to send the Steam to victory.
The four points are huge in the Bill Ohlhausen Division Standings. It sends them 12 points clear of the fourth place North Okanagan Knights, and kept them just four points behind the second place Princeton Posse who they see this coming Friday.
The Posse used one of two games in hand on Tuesday night in 100 Mile House, beating the Wranglers 4-3 in overtime to continue their streak of great results. They’ve won seven of their last ten games, and come into the Summerland Arena holding a six point edge in the standings.
Keep your eyes peeled for a preview of Friday’s game sometime Thursday or Friday morning!