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The KIJHL Notebook: Team play

This week’s KIJHL Notebook focuses on the recent performance of teams, coaches talking about standout players and the impact that some trade deadline pick ups have had on their respective teams.

 

Eddie Mountain Division

The Fernie Ghostriders have won seven of their last 10 games since the Christmas break and have been led offensively by captain Taylor Haggerty with nine goals and eight assists. Defenceman Eric Martin is right behind with six goals and eight assists. Goalie Nick Kunyk has won all four of his starts with a .935 save percentage and a 2.25 GAA. Deadline pick up Landon Hedges is plus-one in four games.

 

 

With six wins in their last 10 games, Columbia Valley Rockies Head Coach-GM Taylor Sincennes said their team has grown a lot in developing a “defence first mentality.”

That approach has led to offence.

“We’re slowly seeing improvements in the young guys’ offensive numbers as they are getting comfortable in this league,” he said. “A kid like Oleg Bitus is slowly starting to chip in on the offence and build his confidence.”

In 33 games, Bitus has 10 goals and 14 points. Six of his points have come in 2024.

 

There is a reason the Kimberley Dynamiters are happy to have one game this weekend with a focus on being ready for a tough February.

“After seven straight games on the road this month with two very hard weekends, we’ll gladly take a one-game weekend,” said Dynamiters Head Coach-GM Derek Stuart.

The lone opponent the Dynamiters face in February with a record below .500 are the Golden Rockets on the road. The Dynamiters have won three of their past 10 games.

New addition Liam Furlong has two assists in six games with a plus-three rating. Tyden Redlick has three points in four games

 

Since the Christmas break, Creston Valley Thunder Cats Head Coach-GM Brad Tobin believes his group has been competitive at 3-3-2. Most of their games have been tight, with three this month going to overtime. 

“If we can score a goal here or there, our record would be a bit better,” said Tobin. “After the trade deadline, we feel like we have come together as a team a little bit more.”

Liam Munro has three points in five games since being acquired from Fernie.

“We feel like he’s a really good complementary piece in that middle six,” said Tobin. “He’s younger at 18 and if he gets in a groove, he can be a big-time player come playoffs.”

Defenceman Sidney Brill was brought in from Princeton and Tobin has been happy with his play. In three games, he has twice played 20 minutes or more, which is well above the 17:21 he has averaged with the Posse.

“He has played with Max Chakrabarti and is a good puck mover who is getting involved in the offence,” he said. “We were struggling with moving pucks and feel he is going to be what we needed on the back end.”

 

Since taking over the Golden Rockets bench, Assistant Coach Jed Houseman feels the team has been competing.

Consistency is a work in progress, but we’ve shown flashes of great execution,” he said. “Positives are showing through and we will continue building to improve.”

Houseman has liked what he’s seen from new addition Reid Ashcroft, who has three points in five games since joining the Rockets at the deadline.

“He has had some great plays on the defensive side.” 

Houseman also noted that Brayden Bissel has been productive offensively all season, and Dominic Fiorentino has shown good leadership, and the ability to find the net. Defenceman Stefan Bodtker has been playing a solid 200-foot game.

“Our goalies Kaeden Serpa and Alex Jessey have been solid, both seeing a decent amount of shots and keeping us in games.”  

 

Neil Murdoch Division 

The Beaver Valley Nitehawks have battled injury and illness, yet haven’t lost since Dec. 2 against the Thunder Cats on the road. It was then that Head Coach-GM Terry Jones put Nathan Simm on defence after key injuries hit their blueline and “was outstanding.”

“With Connor Stojan battling the flu, Landan Uzeloc was amazing whenever he needed to step up, most notably during the shootout win versus Nelson,” said Jones. “And with our captain Kaleb Percival out for six weeks, Lucas Gartner and Brody Martini have been so steady, and Spencer Dixon-Reusz and Logan Nimmo have chipped in with timely goals.”

Percival is back and provides the Nitehawks with a veteran poise and makes the team better.

 “We have a difficult weekend coming up with Grand Forks, Castlegar and Sicamous on the slate, and we will need a solid, disciplined team defence to be successful,” he said.

 

Tyler Burke, Ray Warrack and JP Desabrais are hot for the Grand Forks Border Bruins. Burke has 12 points (11 assists) in five games, while Warrack has 11 points and Desabrais eight. Border Bruins Head Coach-GM David Hnatiuk has used them on a line and the top power-play unit.

“Having a 20-19-18-year-old together seems to be working well,” he said. “Burke is a playmaker with good vision and patience. He can also shoot. Warrack adds grit, experience and can find the back of the net and then JP has a big shot and is playmaker. The offensive awareness and creativity between the three of them has been beneficial.” 

 

The Castlegar Rebels are in a “lull” that Head Coach Nicholas Headrick hopes can be addressed before the playoffs. Among the keys to their early success was strong 5-on-5 play.

“During that hot stretch our goalies were probably our two best players,” said Headrick. “Now that they have come back to earth, our 5-on-5 defence needs to improve. I don’t think we’re getting outshot terribly in a lot of games. We need to capitalize on our opportunities.”

They’ve received strong play from Carter Peters, Evan Lemke and Logan Lough. Bradley Beals has returned after recovering from an injury that saw him miss an entire calendar year. Headrick didn’t know how Beals would perform, but the Anchorage, Alaska product has been a key addition with three goals in six games.

“He’s a big body that can shoot the puck and is physical on the forecheck,” noted Headrick. “He will be a good playoff player.”

 

Four wins in their past five games has Briar McNaney very happy with his Nelson Leafs squad.

“I felt that we have had moments of brilliance and some that we could’ve come away with better results, but we’ve ultimately started to turn things around and play more of the game we envisioned at the start of the year,” said the Leafs Head Coach. “We’ve had a lot of guys stand out over the last little while – Karl Soneff, Kane Kennedy, Xaiden Bignell, Ty Nykyforuk, Crae Dawson and Quinn Ramsay.”

 

Spokane Braves Head Coach Darin Schumacher is seeing his players battle hard.

“The guys are supporting each other and focused on improving individually and as a team,” he said. “They are working hard on improving themselves on and off the ice. They have all bought into finishing better than we started.”

Lance Buell has impressed with his great play as he is jumping in the rush and making solid breakout passes. Schumacher also noted that Karsen Kendall is playing with confidence and doing a great job in the room, on the bench with his teammates. 

 

Bill Ohlhausen Division

The Princeton Posse have won five of their last 10 games. This weekend they face divisional opponents – Osoyoos Coyotes and Kelowna Chiefs. Twelve of their 26 wins have come against divisional opponents. 

Tyson Horiachka and Vinay Junek lead the team with seven points in six games. The only move the Posse made at the deadline was bringing back defenceman Grady Sterling-Ponech from the Weyburn Red Wings in the SJHL. Sterling-Ponech had an assist in 18 games, and has two assists in two games with the Posse. In early December, the Posse added Matthew Langdon from the MJHL’s OCN Blizzard, where he had nine points in 20 games. He has seven points in 11 games with the Posse.

 

The North Okanagan Knights have nearly half their wins, six of 13, in their last 10 games.

“The team has been playing well, moving the puck better in the neutral zone and trying to create some opportunities off the rush,” said Knights Head Coach-GM Liam McOnie.

Gage Parrell leads the Knights with 11 points in seven games, while Nolan Kelly has four goals and eight points. Nineteen-year-old Luke Rishaug has six points in eight games since returning at the end of December and is currently on a three-game point streak with five points. 

“Luke brings a big presence as well as great poise with the puck. He’s been making some good plays and doing a good job of maintaining puck possession,” said McOnie. “He’s good down low in the offensive zone when he’s hungry to go strip defencemen of the puck and get involved in physical battles.”

 

With six wins in their last 10, Osoyoos Coyotes Head Coach-GM Ken Law feels the players are playing a more upbeat, in-your-face style. 

“This started around the trade deadline and we feel it may have something to do with players feeling more settled,” said Law. “The group themselves have started displaying a trust in each other and are focused on playing for the team and not their own stats.”

Law added that the addition of gritty players Spencer Fleck and Parker MacDonald has rubbed off on some of the younger guys. 

“We have moved some players around with different combinations and it has seemed to help with scoring,” he said. “A couple of guys that have stepped up their games are Rylan Konecsni, Nelson Webster, and our team leaders have been good and leading the way.” 

 

Travers Rebman has been pleased with the play of his group since the Christmas break.

We feel like we have outplayed the other team in our January games and should really be undefeated,” said the Kelowna Chiefs Head Coach. “The post-game analytics support this, but unfortunately we have either had some unlucky bounces, a mistake or a soft goal here or there.”

Rebman said they still have a good feeling as a group and are working on details and adjustments. Matt Keylor and Jaxon Rebman lead with three goals in six games each.

 

The Summerland Steam have one win in their last 10. They have scored 12 goals in eight games. Joseph Krukowski has scored half of those goals and leads the team with 11 on the season.

 

 

 

Doug Birks Division

The Sicamous Eagles head into the Kootenays for a roadtrip to take on Castlegar, Nelson and Beaver Valley and as Head Coach-GM Nick Deschenes put it “we’re in a bit of a dog fight within our division as well as the league to try to maintain home ice advantage.” 

Deschenes wants to see his team play well and consistent during this important stretch. 

They’ve received strong performances from deadline pickups – Luke Rothfos (six points in five games) and Marko Pavlovic (five points in seven games). Non-deadline addition Josh Missfeldt has 13 points in 14 games.

”Our group was really strong offensively, but Rothfos adds another element. He has a good shot and is strong on the puck,” said Deschenes.

Missfeldt, an Edmonton product, has been very consistent since coming over from Grand Forks and Deschenes said he’s been a steady blueline presence.

“He strengthens the back end and has fit right in. I think he is enjoying the opportunity and the position we are in as a team.”

With Pavlovic, it was an opportunity to bring in a veteran presence with experience.

 

The Revelstoke Grizzlies have won six of their last 10 games. Deadline acquisition Prezton Stewart has one goal in five games since coming from Golden and has an even rating. The Grizzlies also added Mikkel Hrechka from Chase and in 10 games he has seven points.

 

 

Through sickness and injury, the Kamloops Storm have battled and found ways to win. Head Coach Jan Ludvig said as challenging as it is, it presents opportunities for others. The Storm have had affiliate players get into the lineup and players who are in and out get chances.

Ludvig said his 20-year-olds have been outstanding.

“Getting Nathan Bohmer is a huge help,” said Ludvig. “He’s an unbelievable player and leader. We are really fortunate to have him on board. He terrorized us a bit last year. It seemed like every time we played him, he filled the net. He brings so many different elements, is a game breaker, super fast and deadly 1-on-1.”

The Storm have eight regular season games remaining, and are battling for seeding in their division, but Ludvig said, “our playoff run has already started. That’s the way we’re approaching it.”

 

Interim Head Coach Lee Hansen has the 100 Mile House Wranglers focused on making the playoffs. That push took a bit of a hit when they lost to the Chase Heat 7-4 on Wednesday, putting the Heat within two points.

“The kids have stepped up and are having a lot of fun right now, which is turning into more success.”

Hansen put together the Terrace line – featuring Ethan Davey, Kelton Shinde and Kayden Stark and they have proven to be effective. Learn more about that line on Top Shelf – The KIJHL podcast.

“They have great chemistry and all have a different role,” said Hansen. “Starky is a grindy, hard hitter that gets under your skin, while Shinde has explosive speed and Davey has great hands to finish off some special plays,” he said.

 

Chase Heat Head Coach-GM Brad Fox has seen aspects in their game that show they can be effective. He wants more consistency from his group. Like other teams, the Heat found themselves in a situation of being down seven players on a recent road trip very difficult.

“We just have to be a little more attentive to detail if you will, so we’re not beating ourselves,” he said. “That has been a huge learning curve for us. The message throughout the group at this point is to focus on what we need to do to continue to become who we want to become instead of on the opponent.”

Fox said that Markus Baron has come a long way and improved in every facet of the game. Baron has six points in 31 games, while averaging 12:24 of ice time, including 1:15 on the power-play.