It’s been a long time comin’, but the Summerland Steam are finally gearing up for an East Kootenay road swing. Because of the changes the KIJHL Schedule has undergone over the past few seasons, it’s been more than five calendar years since a Summerland team traveled to the East Kootenay to play hockey, and they’ll do so with their first three game weekend of the season. The last time they were in the East Kootenays to play road games, they made the exact same swing through Fernie, Kimberley and Creston Valley on October 3rd, 4th and 5th, 2014. They’ll hope for a better result this time as they dropped two of three on that trip, picking up their only win of the trip in the getaway game in Creston Valley on the Sunday.
This time through they’ll face the top-3 teams in the Eddie Mountain Division, widely considered the toughest division in the KIJHL from top to bottom. They begin in Fernie on Friday night against the Ghostriders (6:30pm PST), before going to Kimberley to face the Dynamiters on Saturday (7:00pm PST). They’ll finish in Creston against the Thunder Cats on Sunday (6:00pm PST) before returning home.
The Ghostriders (6-3-0-2) are the second place team in the Eddie Mountain Division, and the kick-off point to Summerland’s three game trip. They’re led up front by Johnny Elias, Captain Dylan Defosse and 20-year old Jordan Kromm, who do the bulk of their scoring. The scouting report on the Riders suggests they’re a beast of a hockey team to handle with big, mobile defenders and skilled forwards who will convert at a high rate when given time and space. Much like their division rival Kimberley Dynamiters, big things are expected of the Riders this season and they’re off to a great start.
The Dynamiters, meanwhile, are off to an even better start than the Riders. Just one regulation loss in 11 games and an OT loss to the Princeton Posse have the Dynamiters chasing the top spot in the KIJHL just a point behind the Beaver Valley Nitehawks. Kimberley is led by the league’s leading scorer, Brock Palmer, who last year had 81 points (27g + 54a) in 47 games. His pace hasn’t slowed in 2019/20, as he’s off to a hot start with 22 points (12g + 10a) in his first 10 games. He’s on pace to score 56 times and be over 100 points in his 20-year old season. If it seems as simple as shutting down Palmer and his linemates, think twice, because the Dynamiters are deeply talented, defend well, and have one of the league’s best power plays.
After running the gauntlet of the top two teams in the Eddie Mountain Division, the Steam will have a 5:00pm start on Sunday against the Creston Valley Thunder Cats. The Thunder Cats (6-2-0-1, 13 points) are the third place team in the Eddie Mountain Division, and will provide yet another stiff test for the Steam to finish a road trip. They have depth, speed and a goaltender in Riley O’Laney who currently owns a near .930% Save Percentage. Nearly all of their position players pitch in on the score sheet on a consistent basis, which is something that the Steam will have to look out for if they want to stay in a game at the end of a 3-game weekend.
Heading to the Kootenays, the Steam aren’t exactly a picture of health. Ty Banser, Mitch Gove, Jordon Woytas and Jarrett Watson will all miss most if not all of the road trip due to injuries that began to mount a couple of weeks ago and seem to be coming in bunches. They do, however, seem to be through the worst of it and have seen some bodies return to the lineup over the past few games.
Ethan Grover has also returned from the MJHL’s Neepawa Natives, giving Head coach Ken Karpuk another defenseman to use in big time situations. The Steam have also acquired forward Gavyn Entzminger (’00) from the Castlegar Rebels in exchange for Future Considerations. That deal was announced Tuesday morning, and Entzminger was in Summerland for their afternoon practice that day.
On the road and down some bodies, the team will surely look to keep things simple. Clear pucks on the first attempt, put them behind defenders and do what they do best, which is forecheck. When the Steam forecheck gets rolling it creates a lot of things, including chances in the offensive zone that lead to good looks and at the very worst, some power play opportunities.
The Steam have one of the best power plays in the KIJHL, second only to their nearest rivals, the Kelowna Chiefs. They’re clipping at over 25% for the season through 11 games, and have scored at least one power play goal in 10 of their 11 games to date. The only game without a power play goal was last Friday’s 3-1 loss in Armstrong to the North Okanagan Knights. It’s a welcome change from the past where the Steam power play has been stuck in the middle or at the back of the pack as far as KIJHL Power Play Percentage is concerned, and it’s become a weapon they can count on to produce offense in many different ways. They’ll have to cash in on their chances this weekend against three good hockey teams, and avoid giving up any shorthanded opportunities.
The road trip kicks off in Fernie on Friday night with a 7:30pm MST (6:30pm Okanagan Time) start against the Ghostriders. Keep your eyes locked on all Social Media Channels for updates!