Summerland, BC - For the Summerland Steam, there's nothing more exciting than the calendar year flipping to 2020. They hope it will bring the health and prosperous results that they've been seeking since September, having lost nearly 120 man-games to injury in their 33 games so far this season. They've managed to stay afloat despite the constant shuttle of bodies in and out of the lineup, collecting a record of 14-15-0-4 and 32 points while only having two players (Cody Swan, Tyson Conroy) play all 33 games. It's good enough to have them sitting comfortably in the third spot in the Bill Ohlhausen Division, 2 points back of the second place Princeton Posse and eight points clear of the fourth place North Okanagan Knights.
After a 4-1 loss in Kamloops on December 20th, the Steam have spent the past 10-days with their families recharging the batteries. They've returned to Summerland ready for their stretch run to the playoffs with 16 games to go in their 49 game schedule. They'll have a good chance to make up some ground and try to gain home ice advantage in the playoffs with a lot of meaningful games left to play.
Of the remaining 16 games, nine come inside the division against the Kelowna Chiefs (3), Osoyoos Coyotes (3) and Princeton Posse (3). All of those become 'four point games' now, and the Steam are finally healthy enough to build some chemistry and really get things going. The line of Morey Babakaiff, Austin O'Neil and Mitch Gove has been electric since Gove's return from injury, while the ever steady Cody Swan has continued to put up points alongside linemate Lane French. Both lines have been good in their time together this season, but sometimes have been counted on a little too often due to the injury situation the Steam have been dealing with for nearly four months.
They've been bolstered recently by not only the return of Jordon Woytas who missed nearly 3 months with a lower body injury, but the addition of three players on return from the AJHL's Drayton Valley Thunder. In the last four weeks the Steam have been able to add local (Penticton, BC) products Ethan McLaughlin and Matthew Byrne to the roster, as well as seeing the return of former Steam forward Liam McLaren on December 20th. All add to what is now incredible depth that Summerland possesses when fully healthy, and should all contribute in very different ways down the stretch for a team vying for home ice advantage in round 1 of the KIJHL playoffs.
The team as a whole has been playing (mostly) good hockey despite the injuries all season long, and in my opinion deserves a better record than they've accumulated as the calendar turns to 2020. When healthy the offense should be second to none in the KIJHL, and some in-season additions have bolstered the defensive unit and will make the Steam an extremely tough out when they're playing their best hockey. From the goal crease on out the team is built with the depth to match any team in the league, and will be able to win in many different ways.
They'll start their post-Christmas schedule on Friday, January 3rd when the Osoyoos Coyotes and former Steam Assistant Coach Carter Rigby come to town. The upstart Coyotes have won five of their last ten under their new coaching tandem of Rigby and Grant Williams. Williams was originally named the interim Head Coach of the franchise after it and then coach Dean Maynard parted ways in late November. Rigby was brought in to aid Williams and spent a couple of games on the Coyotes' bench before the roles reversed and he took the reins.
The teams have seen each other three times early in this KIJHL season, with the Steam picking up five of a possible six points in three hockey games that were extremely fun to watch. The key for the Steam, as it always seems to be, is to stay at even strength and use their strengths to exploit the weaknesses of their opponents. This means use speed through the neutral zone to create both hard forechecking opportunities as well as chances off the rush.
The Coyotes have been playing great hockey lately, picking up a pair of wins over the Chase Heat and Beaver Valley Nitehawks at home before an extended 13 day holiday break. They returned from the break on December 27th to start a home & home with the Kelowna Chiefs, losing both and being outscored 10-2. 5-5 in their last 10, they've fought their way back into the Bill Ohlhausen Division playoff race, sitting just seven points back of the fourth place North Okanagan Knights.
Their backbone has been goaltender Curt Doyle, who's been nothing short of spectacular for the Coyotes since his acquisition in early October. He's allowed a young hockey team in front of him to work through some mistakes by keeping them in games, and it's beginning to pay off in the results category.
They're coming off a December that saw them go 3-4, and will be excited to try and get their new Head Coach a win in his old stomping grounds on Friday night. Puck drop is at 7:30pm from the Summerland Arena, and tickets are just $10 at the door for adults, $8 for students/seniors and Family Packs are just $25!