The KIJHL Notebook: Special teams

The KIJHL Notebook: Special teams

March 7, 2024 at 4:30 pm  Hockey, Kamloops Storm, Sports

 

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League will have a new Teck Cup champion this season after the Columbia Valley Rockies defeated the defending champion Kimberley Dynamiters in five games. 

The Kimberley Bulletin newspaper reported it’s the first time in over a decade that the Dynamiters have been eliminated in the opening round, dating back to the 2013/14 season when they lost to the Golden Rockets. Head coach-GM Derek Stuart told the Bulletin he was at a loss for words in what to say to his players in the locker room following the game.

“I don’t think I’ve been in this situation, definitely haven’t been in this situation here,” said Stuart, who spent six seasons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League before coming to Kimberley.

The Dynamiters have won their division and been to the conference finals, or finals for the past seven seasons, going back to 2014/15.

Stuart credited the Rockies for playing extremely well and said, “they deserved to win the series.” The Dynamiters will return to work in a couple weeks, Stuart said, to prepare for a run at the 2024 BC Hockey Junior A Championship, the Mowatt Cup in Kimberley from April 18-21.

“It’s a good group,” Stuart said. “We have some learning to do. There’s some things we need to change and some things we need to fix before the tournament in April, but again I think we’ll get to that down the road once we’ve let this one set in. 

While the second round of the Teck Cup playoffs begin today with a rematch of the Bill Ohlhausen Division Final between the Princeton Posse and North Okanagan Knights, the other series’ begin tomorrow. This week’s KIJHL Notebook touches on each matchup and each teams’ special teams.

 

The Posse have the top-ranked power-play at 30 per cent, going 6-for-20, while the penalty-kill  is 14th at 76.9 per cent – 20-for-26. Carson Hebert led the team with two power-play goals. Head coach-GM Mark Readman says their power-play has been a strength all season and he liked seeing it coming together again in the post-season.

“Right now they are just understanding what they see from the opposition and letting their ability and IQ take over,” says Readman. “We had some players out during the first round that are key to our PP’s success, and even so we had other players step up and contribute to the unit’s.

Readman is confident in what their PK can do, as they had goals scored against them from odd circumstances or tough bounces.

The Posse went 6-0-0 against the Knights during the regular season.

“For us in this series we are going to need to find ways to support pucks fast and play a high paced game,” says Readman, who feels both teams play a similar style and it will come down to puck support and work rate. “Although we had success against them during the regular season, we know that we haven’t seen their best in a long time with injuries and sickness going through their group at different times.”

Readman says Tyson Horiachka (eight points in five games), Matthew Langdon (six in four) and Ty Russell (eight in five) were really strong against the Kelowna Chiefs.

“They came together as a line late in the last round and are players who think the game equally on an elite level and can be difference makers as we move forward,” he says. “Brennan Watterson really came on strong as the series went on after being out for the first two games, and brought a relentless work ethic and determination on a shift-by-shift basis to help our group find success and the team come back from a few goals down in Game 5. He is the definition of a playoff performer that gets better when there is more on the line.” 

 

The Knights have the fifth best power-play entering the second round at 21.7 per cent. Head coach-GM Liam McOnie says their units are doing a “very good job of reading the penalty kill and taking what’s given.”

“It’s sort of the same with our penalty-kill. We prioritize getting in shot lanes and having good sticks and I thought the players did an excellent job of making reads and being able to flex outside of the structure of it,” says McOnie.

The Knights had the top ranked PP at 26.1 per cent – going 41-for-157.

“Special teams are a huge part of the game. We’ve seen some games where we had to kill up to 11 minors,” he says. “If you’re power-play is going, it can get you one or two goals a game. That’s a huge swing.

“When a top team like Princeton is doing a great job on their power-play and they have a lot of weapons, we have to make sure we play a disciplined game and at the same time, make the most of power-play opportunities when we get them,” he continued.

The Knights were 0-5-0-1 against the Posse in the regular season.

This rematch also brings McOnie back against his good friend Readman. They have talked a bit before their matchup, trying to find out what lineups might look like.

“It’s pretty tight lipped at this point. We like to keep things fairly loose until Game 1 starts and then we probably won’t talk to each other for two weeks and then after that we will be back to being buddies,” joked McOnie. “It’s a fun opportunity. We’ve got some guys who are pretty motivated to slay and I think we’ve got a few guys with a chip on their shoulder carrying over from last year. I think it will be a good series.”


Doug Birks Division

The Revelstoke Grizzlies won four of their six games against the Kamloop Storm. Head coach Jiri Novak says the Storm will be a good test because of their depth and goalie Colton Phillips-Watts.

On special teams, once again the Grizzlies are No.1 on the penalty-kill at 94.7 per cent – going 18-for-19, while the power-play ranks 11th at 12.5 per cent – going 2-for-16.

“Special teams will be key in this series. You have to be good in these areas,” stressed Novak. “We were successful in the regular season, but now in the playoffs, teams are more focused on the special teams. We would like to continue how we played in the regular season.”

In talking about their power-play, the Grizzlies are working on finding the right combination, but added the small details matter.

“The ice in Kamloops and Revelstoke can make a difference. When you play on the big ice, it can be a little different than how we play in Revelstoke,” he noted. 

 

Head coach Jan Ludvig loved how his group played as a team in the first round, especially in Game 7 against Sicamous, loaded with offensive weapons, and won 1-0.

“I was very happy about that,” he says.

The Storm are led by their veteran goalie Colton Phillips-Watts, 20, who Ludvig says has been “unbelievable.” 

“Colton is a rock. He has been really good and makes the big saves. He’s a big-save goalie,” says Ludvig.

Per Hudl Instat, Phillips-Watts averages 2.8 brilliant saves per game, and has an 89 SP in scoring areas.  

Ludvis says, “it’s going to be a war” for their series against the Grizzlies.

On special teams, the power-play ranked No. 6 at 18.8 per cent, going 6-for-32, while the penalty-kill was 10th at 83.3 per cent, going 20-for-24.

“Our PK has been really good all year and the PP has been coming on. That is going to be a huge factor,” says Ludvig. “We definitely have some room to improve. They have really good special teams. It’s going to be an important tactic for both teams.”


Eddie Mountain Division

Fernie Ghostriders head coach-GM Ty Valin says the Columbia Valley Rockies are a “very good hockey team.”

“It’s going to be a good, physical series,” he says.

Valin liked the resiliency his players showed against Creston Valley and how they responded each time they were pushed.

After the first round, the Ghostriders power-play ranked 14th – going 2-for-18 (11.1 per cent), while the penalty-kill was eight – 13-for-15 (86.7 per cent). Valin says special teams are always a question mark, especially from one series to another and noted that teams have different tactics. Valin noted the Rockies’ PK was strong against Kimberley and that his players need to be ready for that. The same with their PK.

“It’s a heavy-lifting job, but our guys like to rise to the occasion and embrace the opportunity to get the job done,” adds Valin. “It’s going to be huge in this series.”

Defenceman Kaden Slobodian leads the Ghostriders with five points in five games. Making a big contribution in his post-season debut was Jack Lambert, who returned from a long-term injury. He scored the series clinching goal (see it in the Plays of the Week video) with 23 seconds remaining in regulation time. Valin says his debut was good.

“He’s a big piece to our organization and it’s nice to get him back,” says Valin. “It didn’t look like he missed a beat. A bit of a story-book ending to the series for him. I have to give a ton of credit to the kid for staying in shape and keeping himself game ready. When he got cleared, he was ready to go.” 

 

Columbia Valley Rockies head coach-GM Taylor Sincennes believes their series with the Ghostriders “will be a hard fought battle both ways.” 

“It’s going to be similar to our regular season records – a back and forth battle,” says Sincennes, whose team had a win, three losses, an overtime loss and a shootout win versus Fernie.. “It’s going to be a good series to watch.” 

Defeating the Dynamiters is a “confidence in what we’re doing” noted Sincennes. “Winning it and winning the way that we did shows the brand of hockey that we’re playing can be successful, more excitement in your locker room and in the community. We have to keep that going into the second round.”

Sincennes loved that the group played as a team.

“We played a fast, hard, physical playoff style that was complemented with some very good goaltending,” he said.

Nate Glenn, as Sincennes put it, was “stellar” winning four of his five games, highlighted by a 37-save shutout. He has a .954 save percentage with a 1.54 goals against average. 

“Every game we won, there were moments it could have tipped the other way. Teams are going to get their opportunities. When they had theirs, he was there to make the big save. He made some of the best saves I’ve seen in this league.”

The Rockies penalty-kill is at 91.7 per cent, second to the Grizzlies. Sincennes wants to see his team take fewer penalties, but allowing two power-play goals, he felt the units did an “excellent job.” They committed to blocking shots and getting pucks out. The power-play scored four times on 31 chances and is an area they are working to improve. While it’s not executing as they would like, it still building momentum to generate chances. 


Neil Murdoch Division

Beaver Valley Nitehawks head coach-GM Terry Jones has a lot of respect for the Grand Forks Border Bruins, who they defeated twice this season, lost twice in regulation and in the shootout. Jones added over the last two seasons, their games have been battles.

“Grand Forks is a really well coached team. We are going to have to be at our best to beat them,” says Jones. “We know they have very solid goaltending, really good defenceman who log a lot of minutes and two lines that are as good as anybody. We know we are in for a tough battle and are looking forward to the challenge.”

Jones believes this will be a great series and he looks “forward to full rinks and good hockey.” Fan buses from each team are already planned.

One thing Jones really liked that his team did against the Castlegar Rebels he wants to see against the Border Bruins is that the players didn’t unravel.

“I found that we were really resilient. I really liked the way our team handled that adversity,” he says. “I’m hopeful those experiences will help us.”

The Nitehawks have the fourth best power-play at 22.5 per cent – going 9-for-40, while the penalty-kill ranks ninth at 84.4 per cent – 27-for-32.

“There were times I didn’t really like what we were doing and I think we will have to make some adjustments to be successful,” says Jones. “We need to get a better entry, get more shots to the net and be a little bit more cohesive in our shooting.”

 

Heading into their series with the Nitehawks, the Border Bruins have confidence.

“We’re ready for a good series, we’ve been waiting for it and ended two of their winning streaks that they had going,” says head coach-GM Dave Hnatiuk, who was an assistant coach in USports for the University of Regina, then spent two seasons with the Selkirk Saints as head coach before joining the Border Bruins. “I feel like we have confidence going in due to our regular season success against them.”

The Border Bruins’ special teams are among the league best in the playoffs with the power-play at No.2 – 25.9 per cent, going 7-for-27, while the penalty-kill is fourth at 88.2 per cent, going 15-for-17. Hnatiuk says consistency has been key as the PP has been strong all season.

“The guys are always chatting, trying to come up with different ideas. We have both units who are a threat,” he said. “The PK is finally starting to buy into what we expect from them. It’s all coming together. We talk about getting better each day in every aspect.”

Hnatiuk liked how disciplined his team has been, especially not getting involved after the whistle. Everyone is going and Ethan Shebansky, named the KIJHL Top Goalie, has been solid.

As their series with the Nelson Leafs went on, Hnatiuk noted excitement grew and the players got to see the Jack (Goddard Memorial Arena) with a full capacity crowd. 

 

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