The Beaver Valley Nitehawks begin their bid for the KIJHL title tonight as they host the Okanagan/Shuswap champion Kelowna Chiefs at the Beaver Valley Arena.
The Chiefs are a mysterious entity in the KIJHL, a young team that managed to overcome the top two seeds in divisional playoffs and win their conference.
When Kelowna’s head coach Ken Andrusiak and assistant Grant Sheridan brought junior B hockey to the Okanagan’s largest city, they figured they were embarking on a three-year plan, but it took just two seasons for the Chiefs to reach the league final.
“It’s very satisfying, compared to where we came from last year,” said Andrusiak. “Our first year, there were a lot of growing pains, just like any new business. This year, we started to get the hang of it, on and off the ice.”
The Chiefs were relocated from Chase for the start of the 2010-11 season and finished fourth in the Okanagan Division but have rolled through this year’s playoffs with three straight series wins. Their 12-4-0 post-season record is the KIJHL’s best.
“They must be doing something right they beat some good teams to get where they are, but so did we.” said Nitehawk assistant coach Jeremy Cominotto.
While the Hawks disposed of Fernie in a quick five-game series to win the Kootenay Conference, a drawn-out seven-game division series against Castlegar took its toll.
The Hawks incurred a few injuries with Scotty Davidson, Mason Spear and Tyler Collins banged up, but the four-day rest will help, says Cominotto.
Kelowna took its last step to the final with a five-game series win over Sicamous in the Okanagan/Shuswap Conference championship, which ended with Brent Lashuk’s (brother of the Nitehawk’s Derek Lashuk) overtime goal Friday night at Rutland Arena.
Kelowna Forwards Landon Andrusiak and Dane Rupert have been on fire in the playoffs with 27 points apiece, and, along with Lashuk, should get lots of attention from the Nitehawks.
Kelowna was responsible for one of seven Nitehawk losses this season, beating Beaver Valley 6-5 on Sept. 24. The Nitehawks responded in January with a 4-0 win over the Chiefs in the only other meeting. The Chiefs’ coach is impressed with the Hawks potent offence but is optimistic.
“They (the Nitehawks) have good forwards, they’re very good on the rush, and they can beat you with speed,” said Andrusiak. “We’re going to need to play structured and try avoid getting into a run-and-gun game with them. With the right preparation you can beat anybody . . . The guys are excited to play them.”
Game 2 goes Thursday at 7 p.m. in Fruitvale, with Games 3 and 4 in Kelowna on Saturday and Sunday nights at Rutland Arena.
With files from the Kelowna Capital News