KIJHL Notebook: Key performers


The first round of the KIJHL Teck Cup championships did not disappoint. Fans watched as lower seeds Fernie and Creston Valley won their respective series. Plus there were several big performances by players.

The second round will feature a pair of rematches from last season’s first round as the Thunder Cats face the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, while the defending KIJHL champion Revelstoke Grizzlies take on the Sicamous Eagles.

In the Okanagan, playing for the Bill Ohlhausen Division Final are the Princeton Posse and North Okanagan Knights. Last season the Posse were eliminated in the first round by Osoyoos, while North Okanagan did not qualify.

“I think the pace of play is going to go up through the roof,” said Posse Head Coach Mark Readman of his expectations for the series. “North Okanagan is a talented, deep, skilled hockey team.They made some moves around the deadline, picking up Tyler Badger. Getting Lian Gayfer back from the Salmon Arm Silverbacks adds another layer of high-end offence to that group.”

Readman also noted the addition of Colton Fleming on the back end and their goaltending with Austin Seibel and Josh Hager. 

Let’s dive into each of the remaining teams in this week’s Notebook.

Goaltender Matt Fleet was key in the Kimberley Dynamiters advancing to the Eddie Mountain Division Final in their five-game series win against the Golden Rockets. Fleet said as a team, he felt they played really well.

“We were super strong defensively and bearing down on chances offensively,” said Fleet, who stopped 131 of 139 shots he faced. “I made the easy saves when I had to and the team in front of me did a really good job of not really giving Golden many opportunities.”

When asked about his play, Fleet, an affiliate of the BCHL’s Cranbrook Bucks and graduate of the CNHA Canucks U18AA program in Calgary, felt he was calm and collected. 

“It was my first playoff experience for the most part as I backed up Selfie (Trystan Self) for most of the playoffs last year and watched what he did and how he prepared for games,” said Fleet. “I was pretty confident in my play going into this series and handled myself well.”

Fleet said his .914 save percentage and 2.37 goals against average are team numbers as the Dynamiters “have one of the best defensive cores in the league and our forwards have bought into the defensive structure of our team.”

The Dynamiters are looking to defend their Eddie Mountain Division championship.

Aiden Kruhlak got into a rhythm in the playoffs for the Fernie Ghostriders following an up and down regular season. Playing a butterfly style, the 6-2, 175-pound goalie tries to stay calm. He’s anticipating a fun series with the Kimberley Dynamiters.

“It’s just hockey, you can’t get too wound up,” he said. “Just play the game. There’s definitely an edge, extra motivation.”

The Sherwood Park product, a graduate of OHA Edmonton U18 Prep said his confidence has grown from the Columbia Valley Rockies series win.

“I’d say it definitely went up. That was a tough opponent for us, but to be able to knock off the top team like that, it’s just a great feeling,” said Kruhlak, who brings some Junior A experience having played for the AJHL’s Drayton Valley Thunder last season.

Kruhlak said his teammates did a great job blocking shots in the first round.

“Everyone’s firing on all cylinders and we’re all moving towards the same goal,” said Kruhlak.

Heading into their series with the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, Luke Chakrabarti says the Creston Valley Thunder Cats are playing with confidence.

“We know that we can beat Beaver Valley if we play our best and that’s just what we have to do,” said Chakrabarti, who had a six-point night in their series clinching game against the Grand Forks Border Bruins. “They are a tough team to play against and their Head Coach Terry Jones knows what he’s doing. It will be a tough battle, but I think we have the roster and the coaching to do it. It will probably go seven games.”

When asked about his six-point performance, Chakrabarti isn’t sure what happened, but said “I just kind of showed up.” Chakrabarti almost didn’t play because he was sick. After being carefully checked for most of the series, and held off the scoresheet in two games, he was able to play “freely for the first time.”

As the Beaver Valley Nitehawks get set to play the Thunder Cats, Jones likes that his team had several contributors in their win over Nelson.

“We had different guys step up at different times, whether it was our goaltender, or defence, or a really timely offence, I really liked the way our whole team played,” he said.

Jones feels the same as Chakrabarti in that their series will be tough.

“Any series in our league can be tough. Creston is playing at a high level. They just knocked off the No.1 seed in our division in Grand Forks, who had a terrific year,” said Jones. “It’s quite obvious their offence is flowing through Blake Anderson and Luke Chakrabarti. We’ve got to do our best to try and hold those guys down a little bit.”

Of the 19 goals scored by the Thunder Cats, 11 were by Anderson and Chakrabarti.

On his roster, Jones was very happy to see Boris Hristov raise his game offensively to score five goals in five games. The 18-year-old rookie scored seven in 41 regular season games. Jones also noted that Ethan Smyth scored big goals, and they received timely goals from their defence as Eithan Grishin had a game-winner.

“In the final game Timothy Josza scored an amazing goal to really start turning the tide in the Nelson series,” said Jones. “Gavin Tritt had a great series in terms of point production (three goals and nine points in six games).

After sweeping the Summerland Steam, Princeton Posse Head Coach Mark Readman wants to see the same pace and energy against the Knights as they showed against the Steam.

“Our top guys are rolling along at a pretty good clip right now,” said Readman. “For the fire power that our group does have, we had to earn it for sure. We are definitely finding ways to produce offence. Shifting now into this series against North Okanagan, those top guys are going to have to be at their best. I know my guys are up for the challenge.”

Anmol Garcha leads the Posse with seven points in four games. Dayton Nelson and Tyson Horiachka lead with four goals each.

Small details were the key to the North Okanagan Knights’ success in the first round.

“Whether it was details as small as how we’re forechecking, backchecking, or the routes that we’re taking, making sure that we have good sticks and being in good position,” said Knights Head Coach-GM Liam McOnie, “and then the big picture stuff of how we look 5-on-5 five as a unit. How we look on the power-play and the penalty-kill. There is a lot that went into our success. It’s going to continue that way.

“Princeton is a really deep team and we’re going to need to be dialed from our first line to our fourth, all six defence and our goaltenders are going to have to be ready,” he continued. “We’re going to see a very deep and skilled team and how we prepare is going to be very important for the series.”

Knights veteran forward Matthew Johnston leads all players in playoff points with 14. It adds to the career year he’s enjoyed as he put up 20 goals and 45 points in 42 games. When asked about him, McOnie said, “To be honest, I don’t think he played any differently than how he played through the regular season. I think a few more of his chances ended up connecting. He got tons of chances in the regular season and his linemates got a ton of chances. It’s just sort of clicking at the right time.”

And late season addition Lian Gayfer, who started the season with the BCHL’s Salmon Arm Silverbacks, has two goals and five points in five games. 

“Lian has experience playing at a high level and plays with an edge and a lot of pace to his game,” said McOnie. “He’s moving his feet a lot, always looking to make plays, he’s a dynamic player. We’ve been fortunate to be able to add him for this last stretch.”

McOnie raved about the play of his defence, who has stepped up in the absence of Fraser O’Brien. He feels they are really buying into strong defensive hockey.

The Revelstoke Grizzlies coaching staff has been hard at work making sure the players are ready for the second round. Head Coach-GM Ryan Parent knows they are facing a quality team in the Eagles.

“I certainly think that there are some specific nuances that we will take a look at,” said Parent. “They have a really good offensive group there and we are looking at where we have to be tight.

“We have a tremendous amount of respect for the way they play,” continued Parent. “I think it’s going to be a great series.”

David Coyle, acquired from the Kerry Park Islands of the VIJHL, played for the North Vancouver Wolf Pack last season. Parent said Coyle has improved all year.

“He is playing more physical, using his speed more. He is playing more simple and has bought into being better,” said Parent. “He has wanted to become a better player. I think David Coyle is going to be excellent for us down the stretch.”

“When you have a group that doesn’t have a lot of playoff experience, a lot of people will say playoffs is a different style of game and in some aspects it really is, you are playing for keeps,” said Sicamous Eagles Head Coach-GM Nick Deschenes. “The old adage that it’s more physical, there is more shot blocking. There are more of those elements. I like to think that our group in these seven hard-fought games figured out the importance of these elements in being successful. It does take paying a bit of a higher price than you might have to in the regular season.”

Deschenes was very happy with how his defence has played, containing the Kamloops Storm, which featured players with Junior A experience.

“We took away time and space, were quick to pucks in the corner and we didn’t give them a lot of offensive zone opportunities,” he said. “We were making good plays on our breakouts. I thought they really rose to the challenge of that team. I feel like our group can keep getting better as the playoffs go. We’re still trying to get better, keep refining our game.”

Warren Roberts-Lee, who joined the Eagles in December, has seven points in seven games.

“He has some skills, some tools that are at a pretty elite level,” said Deschenes. “His success is determined by how he sets himself up to utilize his speed and his shot. I don’t think it’s a surprise anymore if guys are figuring out he’s got I would say close to an NHL shot.”

Deschenes added that by working more with his teammates, it will unlock more opportunities. 

“I think there is still more there that he can unlock.”