As the Christmas break nears for most Kootenay International Junior Hockey League teams, the KIJHL Notebook focuses on their play while touching on recent player acquisitions for some teams.
Eddie Mountain Division
Kimberley Dynamiters Head Coach-GM Derek Stuart is happy that players are starting to understand their roles and has everyone contribute as they’ve won eight of their last 10 games.
“Our ability to adapt our game depending on the arena or opponent has also been a key to our success lately,” said Stuart.
Parker Konneke has been great all season, said Stuart as the 6-3, 180-pound forward is “one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the league.”
“I have been impressed with his efforts to improve his game without the puck as well with the leadership qualities he has shown, despite being new to the team,” said Stuart of Konneke who has six goals and five assists in six December games. “We believe there is even more offensive ability and are excited about what he’ll bring after the break when the games truly matter.”
Columbia Valley Rockies Head Coach-GM Taylor Sincennes feels his team has taken a step backwards because of the pre-Christmas lulls.
“We are slowly working our way out of it,” he said, adding there is a focus to improve their overall attention to detail. “We are letting the small things get away from us and it’s hurting the bigger picture. We are hammering the fundamentals of what our team is good at and building our confidence through the simple things.”
The Rockies have received strong performances from Danny Schmirler and Kyran Gromnisky who each have three points in four December games. Sincennes has liked that “they are both bringing really good energy every night.”
“Whether it’s chatting on the bench, or finishing their checks, they are bringing that high tempo, high energy portion and the points are following.”
Fernie Ghostriders defenceman Cole Fisher said their play the last two weeks has been good.
“We’ve had a couple of hiccups, but we learned from it and keep moving forward,” he said.
In their recent 5-1 loss to Kimberley on the road, they had defensive breakdowns and he said “we know we can be better.”
Fisher has enjoyed seeing what captain Taylor Haggerty and goalie Nick Kunyk have done.
“Kunyk is pretty smooth in the net and is always hard to beat in practice. He practices like he plays,” said Fisher. “Haggerty is fun to watch in the offensive zone and makes it look so easy with the puck.”
Haggerty has seven points in five games.
With three wins in six December games, Creston Valley Thunder Cats Head Coach-GM Brad Tobin has been happy to see his team score more and getting offence from throughout the lineup. Defenceman Max Chakrabarti leads the team with four goals and seven assists in six games, while brother Luke has four goals and three assists. Bobby Anselmo has a goal and three assists.
“We’ve been really happy with the play of Bobby Anselmo,” said Tobin. “He’s found his game lately.”
Golden Rockets Head Coach-GM Chuck Wight has seen more consistency in his group the past few weeks and improved special teams play.
“The offence has started to produce more in the last few games and we have had a good overall morale in recent weeks after some tough one-goal losses,” said Wight.
On Tuesday the Rockets earned a 5-4 OT win over the Thunder Cats after erasing a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead. Cade Cochlan netted the winner with his sixth of the season.
“The OT win was a great effort from the whole team. The ability to reset and stay focused and work our way back from being down is a big takeaway for us,” he said.
Cochlan leads the Rockets with five goals and four assists in six December games. Brayden Bissell has seven points in six games. Wight noted that Cochlan has been a top performer and has provided strong leadership.
Neil Murdoch Division
With three wins in four December games, Grand Forks Border Bruins Head Coach-GM David Hnatiuk said their team play is showing really good moments with consistency being a small issue. He still isn’t happy with their goals against, which doesn’t all fall on the goalies.
“Something we have been focusing on the last few weeks are the defensive breakdowns,” he said. “Some are individual mistakes, some are small mishaps throughout games.”
In his six games since being acquired from Sicamous, Tyler Burke has a goal and five assists and Hnatiuk said “he has been a nice addition up front providing more skill.”
“We’re definitely a team that is scoring by committee. The more that you can add to that, the better,” said Hnatiuk. “He gives us more depth, experience and playmaking ability.”
With four wins in their last five games, Castlegar Rebels Head Coach Nicholas Headrick said his team is playing extremely well.
“We have been playing a simple, hard game and obviously have tremendous goaltending,” he said. “It’s been a good stretch for us.”
Headrick has credited defenceman Austin Lourenco and Aiden MacNeil for their success as they returned “hungry and wanting to win” after a rookie season of learning.
“They have been massive pieces for us. They play 25-27 minutes a night, very good minutes against the other teams top players,” said Headrick. “Those two guys have probably been the biggest difference in our turnaround.”
Lourenco has plus-eight on the season and has seven points this month, while MacNeill has an even plus/minus and three points this month.
It’s been up and down for the Beaver Valley Nitehawks lately, but Head Coach-GM Terry Jones feels they are going into a good direction heading into the second half. The key is players returning to health from illness and injury.
“We lost our conditioning and when you lose that, you’re a step slower than you need to be,” he said. “I found that was one of the things that was costing us in some of those games. I think we’re back on track.”
They’ve also been without captain Kaleb Percival, who is a “key cog.”
Adam Redding is now competing at a level the Nitehawks know he’s capable of as he missed time to injury.
“He wants to finish in our league as a winner. He is starting to really buy into what it takes to win – shot blocking, finishing checks, the simple plays that you have to make to be successful. He has made adjustments.”
Redding is third on the Nitehawks with 20 points in 21 games and the Spokane, Wash., product recently had five points in three straight games.
With two more games to play before the Christmas break, the Nelson Leafs have been up and down to Head Coach Briar McNaney. He felt they should have left with wins against two good teams in Castlegar and Grand Forks.
“The Castlegar goalie (Ethan Lawczynski – 36-save shutout) was fantastic. They have one of the best coached teams in our league. They are playing really good hockey.”
Recently acquired defencemen Memfis Burgeson, Bhavin Serown and Ayden Baldo have fit in seamlessly in every aspect. Along with playing their game, McNaney wants them to make a good first pass, defend one-on-one and play their defensive zone systems.
Going into the break, McNaney thanked everyone involved in the Leafs family and organization.
They mean a lot,” he said.
Spokane Braves Head Coach-GM Darin Schumacher is seeing daily improvement from his group who “are battling hard each game.” The Braves are focused on playing faster and transitioning in both directions.
“Teams are very good at capitalizing on turnovers, and we are working hard on developing that skill with our young team,” he said.
Goalie Andrew Tworkowski has been playing well all season and has five wins with a 4.32 GAA and a .914 SP.
“He makes amazing saves each period to keep us in every game,” said Schumacher.
Defenceman turned forward Knox Trottier is doing a great job, while Ray Eloe is “playing very well using his strength and physical nature to be hard to play against.”
Bill Ohlhausen Division
Princeton Posse forward, Jonathan Ward, who was named the KIJHL Top Forward, said they have been playing with very high intensity.
“(Head Coach-GM) Mark Readman is always on us. He is a great coach making sure we are doing the little things right. I think we are finding a team-first identity and doing whatever it takes. Especially in these last 15 games.”
Ward has been playing with Vinay Junek who has six points this month.
“He’s a guy that just does all the little things. You can’t even say he’s an offensive player as you can use him in any situation. He’s reliable on draws and does absolutely everything right and still manages to get up and score goals. He is super skilled, he’s fast. He’s just an amazing player.”
Kelowna Chiefs Head Coach Travers Rebman said a recent 6-3 win over Summerland is more what they expect in their play, compared to a disappointing performance in two games against Osoyoos. He also liked their play against Grand Forks, but that slipped away in the third because of some faceoff plays and a penalty-kill system miscue.
Rebman says they have received solid goaltending efforts, but they want to see the goalie keep their save rates between the .915-.920 range to eliminate a goal or two each game.
“The Sicamous game is an example of where we need to button down our defensive play to allow fewer shots and grade A chances,” he said. “ We are doing some neutral zone forecheck work this week that we feel will help us cut down on the transition chances against.”
Aiden Cotroneo and Jake Kessler have taken on added responsibilities with Mathias Reha and Zach Peitch out.
“We currently have an all rookie defence corps so that’s a lot for the backend to handle. Jacob Shtaif getting back this past weekend added some jump to the forward group, and Nikita Syerov is getting more comfortable with what we are doing. I think he’s going to have a solid second half up front.”
North Okanagan Knights Head Coach-GM Liam McOnie feels his group has performed pretty well of late, though there is some inconsistency.
“Our battle and compete level when we’ve been playing well has hidden a lot of errors,” he said. “When we have found our stride, we’ve done really well. It’s a matter of us finding our game early and not waiting until the second or third period to play.”
McOnie has really liked the play of Dane Dietz “who has really taken a step over the last three to four weeks.”
“Carson Haugan and Carter Will and Kyle Wheeler all had very good games on our last Kootenay trip. Colton Fleming returning from a sickness and scoring a hat-trick was huge for our team.”
Osoyoos Coyotes Head Coach-GM Ken Law wants to see a complete effort from his group this weekend.
“Keep things simple and show up willing to outwork the opponents,” he said. “If not for our goaltenders Hunter Arnsten and Hayden Lee, we would be hard pressed to stay in the games we do. A few of our younger guys like Logan Messer, Jordan Gale, and Nelson Webster are proving to be huge pieces for us game in and game out.”
The Coyotes have a win in December as they head into the final weekend before the Christmas break. Jarod Gale, Levi Brewer and Logan Messer each have four points in five games. Messer has three goals, while Brewer has four assists to lead the group. Brewer leads the Coyotes in points with 17, and they are all assists.
Despite losing to the Castlegar Rebels 3-0 at home recently, Summerland Steam Head Coach-GM Morten Kjolby liked what he saw from his team in that they were better in their zone and didn’t give up many opportunities. In the first period they allowed four shots, then were outshot 10-5 in the third period. The Rebels secured the win in the opening two minutes of the second period.
What also has Kjolby feeling good about the group moving forward are players he recently acquired. He moved captain Keenan Conn to the Kamloop Storm for defenceman Rory Mumford and forward Austin Barrett. He also added Brody Ryerse, who was released from the Princeton Posse. Mumford gives them the left-handed blueliner they needed and Barrett is skilled and brings offensive upside – something Kjolby is hoping will come out with more ice time as he averaged 9:22 a game with the Storm.
“I feel where the team is at, the chemistry in the group and new additions, we’re very excited about the future here,” added Kjolby. “We want to bring in guys that play a bit different and make the team look how we want. We want to play fast, hard and smart. We want to play a high tempo, aggressive style of hockey with and without the puck. We want to utilize our smarts to do it.”
Doug Birks Division
Sicamous Eagles Head Coach-GM Nick Deschenes wants to see his team get more excited to play all their opponents. This is because they have had tough losses to the Knights, who were hungry.
“We seem to be okay against certain competition. Not to take away from any team in the league, but the teams that are higher in the standings, we seem to get more excited to play,” he explained. “Then the teams that aren’t, the big message here is we have to be consistent night in, night out.”
Daniel Kroon has seven points in three games and is now “reaping the rewards of all that effort” after creating opportunities but not earning points.
“He is really driving our game as a team playing hard on both ends of the puck. We had him playing defence quite a bit in the early part of the season and that affected his point totals. Now he is consistently a forward for us.”
Sitting in second-place with 18 wins in 26 games, Kamloops Storm General Manager Matt Kolle is happy with how the team has played, despite being an undermanned roster. They have been building it through trades. Some recent additions are Braycen Dube from the Kimberley Dynamiters and Keenan Conn from the Steam.
“We’re looking for the right types of players who add good character and talent. I think we’re on track for where we want to head,” he said. “We are trying to create depth. They both have good hockey sense. Along with Jaden Beauchamp (seven assists in six games), Dube and Conn can potentially add to what is happening with our power-play and improve it.”
Jiri Novak said the play of his Revelstoke Grizzlies is getting better.
“I liked how we played in the defensive zone. I can see the guys have bought in and how they follow the structure of how we want to play. Hopefully it will be like that for the rest of the season,” he said.
The Grizzlies recently bolstered their blueline by adding Chase Heat captain Mikkel Hrechka, Jackson Romeril and Nathan White. The latter two provide experience from higher levels. Romeril has played in the WHL.
“They can help us on the power-play with the special teams,” he said. “They can bring a physical presence. I think the key to win is a strong D-core and defence matters, especially in the playoffs.”
100 Mile House Wranglers Head Coach-GM Dale Hladun has added pieces in forward Nash Hilworth and Maddox Calbick, as well as defenceman Nolan Wytrykusz, which he believes makes his team better. Hladun likes Wytrykusz’s 6-1, 167-pound frame and his skating ability.
“We’re really excited with Nolan being here. He competes well and has some offensive instincts. We are starting to use him on the power-play.”
Meanwhile Hilworth has connections to the Wranglers in that his cousin Kolby Page was their captain, and his older brother tried out for the Wranglers.
“He’s a hard working kid who can skate well, is a heavy hitter and hard to push off the puck.”
Calbick was picked up from Summerland and is strong with offensive instincts.
“He asks questions everyday. I believe he will make a push in the second half to do well.”
Last weekend Meyer Gaume earned his first career KIJHL shutout for the Chase Heat, making 25-saves in a 4-0 win over Summerland. Gaume has three wins on the season.
Brodie Gohmann has three points in seven games since joining the Heat from Grand Forks, while efenceman Andrew Morris has two points in two games and was named the KIJHL’s Top Defenceman. Justin Campbell, added from Nelson, has an assist in three games. Easton Zenko has not made his Heat debut yet. On the Heat Wave podcast, General Manager/Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations Brad Fox announced that former NHLer Murray Baron will join the coaching staff.
“He has a great hockey mind,” Fox told the Heat Wave podcast.