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The playoff-bound Kelowna Chiefs treated their home encounter on Friday against the Summerland Steam as a post-season game.
That they skated to an 11-4 win and temporarily took over second place in the Okanagan Division of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League spoke volumes about readiness for their southern rivals.
How prepared they are for the rigors of a playoff schedule has yet to be determined.
Following the impressive victory at the Rutland Arena, the Chiefs bused to Osoyoos on Saturday and fell 6-3 to the division leaders who they had defeated 3-1 earlier in the week.
Despite the loss — only their third in the past 13 games and the first in regulation time during that span — head coach, Jason Tansem was impressed with his team's effort and considered it but a blip in what is turning out to be a straight and steady line to the playoffs.
“We came out a little slow — as you would expect in our third game in four nights against a team that had Friday night off,” he acknowledged. “But the boys came on as the game progressed and the third was our best period. So, I can’t find fault in all of that."
After giving up the first two goals of the game early in the first period, the Chiefs replied with their own powerlay goal — by the surging Devin Sutton (seventh goal in the past nine games) — and Tyler Love’s fourth goal in the past five.
And while the Coyotes countered with two more of their own in the first seven minutes of the second, the Chiefs clawed back to within one on Jaunre Naude’s 25th goal of the season.
A pair of powerplay goals by Osoyoos — one late in the second and another midway through the third — nullified the Chiefs’ resurgence in the final 20 minutes.
“Overall, they capitalized on their powerplay chances (three-for-six) and we didn’t (one-for-seven). The next game will be a different story,” assured Tansem, who questioned the figures on the game stat sheet that showed the Coyotes firing 56 shots on Chiefs' goaltender Reign Turley while the Chiefs tested the Coyotes' Liam Aitken with 40.
“The shots aren’t accurate by any means — 28 shots in one period is near impossible at the junior level. All in all, I’d say the shots were even.”
That the Chiefs won’t see the Coyotes for the remainder of the regular season that ends on Feb. 17 says a lot about Tansem's confidence in the outcome of an expected division semifinal later this month with Summerland.
While he said recently that home-ice advantage isn’t a huge factor in his conviction that the revamped Chiefs have a team capable of going deep into the KI playoffs, Friday’s striking win against the Steam in Rutland might indicate otherwise.
Scoring the first two goals of the game and taking a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes, it was obvious early on the Chiefs were on a mission. Three more unanswered goals in the second confirmed it.
“Yes, we competed hard and treated it like a playoff game,” said Tansem. “It definitely showed.
Getting a playoff-must well-balanced performance put an exclamation mark on just how ready the Chiefs appear to be as the post-season draws near.
While the top line of Zach Erhardt, Brett Witala and Aidan Bar-Lev-Wise combined for a respectable seven points, the second unit of Sutton, Brody Dale and Naude teamed up for 12 points, led by Dale’s one goal and five assists.
And the third trio of Kaden Stewart (two goals, one assist), Lane Paddison (two goals, two assists) and Tyler Love (one goal, three assists) hooked up for 11 points.
Tansem, said the entire team — from goaltender Joseph McLeod out — executed the game plan to near perfection.
“Our biggest focus was to limit Summerland to 10 shots per period and count on our offence to follow,” he explained. “Our forecheck was hard and they (Steam) continued to bite on what we were forcing them to do.”
Tansem assured anyone in earshot that in no way was his team out to embarrass the visitors.
“We just kept playing hard and we stuck to our game plan.”
With Saturday’s loss and a Summerland win over North Okanagan, the Chiefs are one point behind the Steam in the Okanagan Division and have played one more game.
Which team will earn the home-ice advantage of best-of-seven first-round playoff might be determined in the two games remaining between the two clubs — the first at the Rutland Arena on Tuesday (7 p.m.) and the second at the Summerland Arena on Feb. 16.