While their coach insists home-ice advantage in the playoffs isn’t a concern, the Kelowna Chiefs inched closer to claiming it with two more weekend wins in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.
A 5-4 victory over the stubborn North Okanagan Knights on Friday and a 3-0 triumph at home against the Princeton Posse on Saturday extended the Chiefs’ streak of being unbeaten in regulation time to 10 games and moved them to within three points of the Okanagan Division’s second-place Summerland Steam.
Both teams have eight games remaining in the regular season, three of which are against each other — two at the Rutland Arena, on Friday and on Feb. 6, and the other at the Summerland Arena on Feb. 16.
“I don’t really care who has home-ice in the playoffs,” said Chiefs’ head coach, Jason Tansem. “What we care about is playing our best when the time comes. Being ready at the right time is the key. These games are all meaningful right now and they’re keeping us on our toes.”
But it doesn’t necessarily mean the surging Chiefs (21-13-1-4) always have their foot on the gas.
Tansem conceded his team’s performance on Friday in Armstrong was “a bit of an average game . . . against a very hungry team.”
“These games are everything to North Okanagan (five points out of a playoff berth),” he noted. “They beat (first-place) Osoyoos the weekend before and Summerland on Saturday, so they’re playing well. We got the win, but it was tougher than it should have been.”
It wasn’t until Tyler Love put away his own rebound ’s with 7:11 remaining in regulation time that the Chiefs were able to pull away for good from the host team, 16 points behind them in the conference standings, but who outshot them 47-39.
In a balanced attack that saw the Chiefs go ahead twice, only to let the Knights pull even or take over the lead, Zach Erhardt stood out with a goal and two assists for the winners.
Rising above the crowd has been commonplace for the 5’9” forward since joining the Chiefs in early December after a stint in the Alberta Junior A Hockey League.
“He’s a relentless player and his style of play is paying off around the net,” said coach Tansem of the Kelowna minor hockey product who has registered at least one point in all but three of his 14 games with the Chiefs and has 11 points in his past four. “Zach never takes even one shift off. He works so hard and creates opportunities for himself and his teammates.”
Aidan Bar-Lev-Wise, Jordan Todd and Myles Mattila rounded out the Chiefs’ scoring in a game that saw them tied 1-1 after the first period and 3-3 going into the third.
While Erhardt put them ahead 4-3 with his powerplay goal at 6:57 of the third period, Jett Saharchuk completed a hat trick for the Knights less than two minutes later to set the stage for Love’s heroics.
Joseph McLeod earned his sixth straight win since coming to the Chiefs from the AJHL in the first week of January, stopping 44 of 47 shots. The third goal he gave up to Saharchuk was only the third he’s allowed in a third period.
On Saturday, the Chiefs received another solid effort from their netminder as 20-year-old Reign Turley earned his first KIJHL shutout by stopping all 31 shots he faced in a 3-0 victory over the visiting Princeton Posse at the Rutland Arena.
Highlight: Chiefs on the power play. They work the puck to @BrodyDale9 on the left side and he hammers home a one-timer for his 12th goal in 12 games. Assists to @BrettWitala and @Zacherhardt27. 1-0 game. pic.twitter.com/B59rgu4fCQ— Justin McCartney (@KChiefsVoice) January 28, 2018
Playing in only his second game since coming over from the Quesnel Kangaroos of the Central Interior (Senior AA) Hockey League at the trade deadline, Turley was forced to make several difficult saves to preserve the whitewash.
Tansem once again was thankful for his good fortune of being able to revamp his goaltending corps earlier this month.
“Both our guys are giving the team in front of them the confidence to continue pounding on the offence,” he said.
Highlight: @TyLove_13 works the back back to @matttalcorn at the point. His shot is deflected by Devin Sutton and it's 2-0. Not sure why Williams was given the assist here and not Love. pic.twitter.com/XEBAnCLSri— Justin McCartney (@KChiefsVoice) January 28, 2018
The Chiefs got the only goal they would need at 12:06 of the first period as Brody Dale notched his sixth goal and 14th point in his sixth game since re-joining the team earlier this month.
After a scoreless second period, Devin Sutton netted his 18th goal of the season just three minutes into the third period while Love scored into an empty net with 36 seconds remaining.
The Chiefs are back in action on Wednesday when they bus to Osoyoos to take on the first-place Coyotes (29-9-1-0-1), a team they defeated 5-4 at home in overtime in Kelowna on Jan. 5.
Weekend play will see the Chiefs playing host to Summerland on Friday at the Rutland Arena (7 p.m.) while they’ll be back in Osoyoos on Saturday.