As the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League winds down to the completion of its 2021-22 regular season, the KIJHL Notebook digs into what some teams are focused on as they close out their schedules. Also highlighted are the remaining matchups for some teams.
Eddie Mountain Division
Columbia Valley Rockies Head Coach Briar McNaney said they are emphasizing one word to the team, and they know every meaning behind it – opportunity.
“We have the opportunity to win our division, we have the opportunity to make a legitimate push for the league title, we have the opportunity to set in stone this new team culture we’ve built,” said McNaney. “We have the opportunity to stay together as a group even longer than some have predicted us to be at the start of the season, and we have the opportunity to create a lifelong memory together. This far, we have given ourselves the opportunity that many people don’t get to experience in their lifetimes; the opportunity to achieve a common goal as a team. Our area of focus is on ourselves and what we can achieve together.”
Derek Stuart and his Kimberley Dynamiters coaching staff have been preparing the players for playoffs all season with the amount of on and off-ice conditioning they do.
“The guys want to win our division and we will need to win out in order to accomplish that so playing playoff hockey for us has already started,” he said.
Half of the Dynamiters’ remaining six games are at home, where they have 14 wins in 18 games.
Ty Valin, Head Coach and General Manager of the Fernie Ghostriders, emphasizes to his players to clean up their game and focus on details every day.
“You keep working on things you have in place. It would be nice to finally shake this COVID bug that we have going through our team,” said Valin. “It has been lingering since Christmas. We want to get guys back in shape and play with pace.”
The Creston Valley Thunder Cats have seven games remaining on their schedule. All except one are against divisional opponents as they will face the Kimberley Dynamiters three times, Fernie Ghostriders twice and the Golden Rockets once. In 26 games against divisional opponents, the Thunder Cats have 10 wins.
Head Coach and General Manager Bill Rotheisler will have his team focused “more on sharpening up some details and continuing to evolve our pace of play.”
“The part that doesn’t change is trying to play a playoff brand of hockey well before actual playoffs,” he said. “We have found what works for us, and now it is about playing that way all the time, and finding a tempo that is going to produce consistent success throughout the post-season.”
The Golden Rockets close out their regular season schedule against teams in their division, in which they have six wins in 26 games. They face Fernie (three wins in five games) and Columbia Valley (two wins in six games) three more times and Creston Valley (one win in seven games) once.
Neil Murdoch Division
With a 13-point cushion on first-place in the division, the Nelson Leafs are focusing on continuing to fine tune details, said Assistant Coach Adam DiBella.
“Tightening up our defensive zone coverage and being sure to take care of our end first.”
DiBella added they like how every player has bought in 100 per cent.
“The players know their roles and are doing their best to contribute every night,” he said.
Beaver Valley Nitehawks Head Coach and General Manager Terry Jones said they have to keep polishing up their play.
“We need to keep working on our discipline,” he said. “I feel like systems wise we are getting better, but we still have lots to work on. We want to try and find our way to be super positive and have a good feeling going into the playoffs and try to peak at the right time.”
The Nitehawks have also been focusing on their D-zone coverage and to keep working on being a good, defensive, team that is hard to play against.
The Castlegar Rebels have eight games remaining in the regular season, and five of those are at home at the Castlegar and District Recreation Centre, where they have won five of 16 games. Six of their games are against divisional opponents, in which they have won 11 of 24 games.
The Grand Forks Border Bruins are focused on competing hard and looking to get a few wins.
“The guys are working hard everyday, but as of late have lacked the discipline it requires to be able to get these wins,” said Head Coach and General Manager David Hnatiuk. “Focus will remain on building a strong, positive culture, system execution, work ethic and discipline. The guys have remained very positive and are also looking to end the year the right way. We are also busy recruiting and getting ready for our upcoming prospects camp with the Nanaimo Clippers in Grand Forks April 1-3.”
Doug Birks Division
The Revelstoke Grizzlies have seven games remaining, with five against divisional opponents. In 27 games, the Grizzlies have 21 wins in their division. Four of their remaining games are at home, where they have 14 wins in 16 games.
The Kamloops Storm have 25 wins in 36 games and have six regular season games remaining on their schedule. Storm Assistant Coach Andrew Fisher said they are really emphasizing with their guys this time of year the importance of keeping a stoic attitude and looking after their health.
“We’ve been stressing that throughout championship runs and within individual games teams are going to go through positive and negative moments,” said Fisher. “How we respond to big wins, timely goals, tough losses and other adversity is going to be important down the stretch and into playoff time. Obviously we’re going to celebrate when things go well, however, our ability to refocus and get back to work after highs will be as important as shrugging it off and continuing to battle through when things aren’t going our way.”
Fisher added that equally important is making sure they are healthy as they can be through proper training, rest/recovery, mobility, nutrition and hydration.
The Chase Heat have seven games remaining with six against divisional opponents. Their record in the Doug Birks Division is 12-11-2-1. They will see the 100 Mile House Wranglers 3 times, the Kamloops Storm twice, Revelstoke and North Okanagan, once. The Heat are 5-0 against the Wranglers, who they play twice this weekend on the road.
With seven games remaining in their regular season schedule, new Sicamous Eagles Head Coach Nick Deschenes said preparing for the playoffs is a season long pursuit.
“Having come into the season in January, it’s about assessing our strengths and identifying our weaknesses,” he said. “We’ve tried to not reinvent the wheel so that changes can be implemented over the course of the remainder of the season. For this group, it’s a mix of technical components combined with some of the intangible elements of playing playoff hockey.”
With the 100 Mile House Wranglers likely to miss the playoffs for the first time in franchise history since coming from Penticton in 2013-14, Head Coach and General Manager Dale Hladun is focusing on the future.
“We have some good young players on our roster that will receive more of a
role on specialty teams, playing against top lines, and being used late in games to gain or protect a lead. We need these kids to gain that experience for next season,” said Hladun, adding he has picked up a great core of affiliate players from the Williams Lake T2 midget team. “Our goal is to have many of these AP’s in our lineup next season. We will try to maximize the games played by AP players such as Curtis Roorda (one assist in six games), Ethan Smid (one goal in four games), Jackson Altwasser (two points in six games), Boston Pierce (one assist in six games) and Mason Pincott. They have shown well when here and we will use them even more in our final eight games.”
Hladun added there are players in the lineup that plan to go to Junior A spring camps and they must maintain a good pace at practices for the next three weeks to remain ready to transition into attending spring camps.
“There is a lot of pride among our kids and they are still focused on trying to win as many games as they can in our final eight,” said Hladun.
Bill Ohlhausen Division
The Osoyoos Coyotes coaching staff is focused on making sure the players feel comfortable with their game.
“If it’s guys that are supposed to put the puck in the net, or create chances or taking care of their bodies so they are good to go for hopefully a long stretch here,” said Head Coach Carter Rigby. “That’s the biggest thing for me. It’s not so much X and O anymore. Obviously there is a league championship and a conference championship on the line as well, which guys are looking forward to. Jack Henderson is looking forward to hopefully getting that point race award. It’s about making sure that everybody is healthy and feeling good about their game.”
Heading into the final stretch, the Kelowna Chiefs are focused on their preparation and maintaining a mental focus throughout the game.
“Just eliminating those stretches of play that we get away from our game and give other teams life,” said Head Coach Travers Rebman. “We are continuing to work with players in their individual skill development, even though the end of the season is on the horizon, a lot of these guys still have goals of moving on or improving for next year so that’s still part of our process.”
They are also emphasizing the little execution details in systems, and game in general, both offensively and defensively.
Summerland Steam Head Coach and General Manager Mark MacMillan said their focus is on playing the right way and approaching everyday with a pro-like mentality. “Due to our postponed games from earlier in the year, we have a ton of games in a short period of time so our focus is team-first and staying fresh so everyone is feeling at the top of their game come playoff time.”
The Princeton Posse close out the regular season battling the North Okanagan Knights for that final playoff berth. Head Coach Mark Readman said they are trying to key in on their defensive zone.
“Being in the bottom of the league in goals against is not a stat you want to be leading, so we have dedicated a lot of practice time to our structure and defensive play,” said Readman. “It has steadily been getting better, but there is always room for improvement in that area, especially in the postseason.
The Posse continue fine tuning special teams and overall skill development.
“Our messaging to players has been simple. We are in a race to get into the playoffs and have emphasized since November that we have had ground to make up, and our goal is to get into the postseason,” said Readman. “We have a determined group that is ready to push, but our big emphasis has been that our playoff push starts now, if not a week or two ago.”
The North Okanagan Knights have eight games remaining – they had four this week as they battle with the Posse for the final playoff spot. Of their eight games, three are at home. The Knights have one win in 16 games away from Nor-Val Centre. Six of their remaining games are against divisional opponents in which they have five of their eight wins this season.