Morning Star Staff
Last game of the regular season. On the road with a playoff berth on the line.
The North Okanagan Knights handled the pressure with poise, brushing back the Princeton Posse 4-2 before 250 fans Saturday night.
The Knights clinched the fourth and final playoff spot in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s Okanagan Division.
They open a first-round best-of-seven series Friday night in Osoyoos against the first-place Coyotes, a team the Knights tied a week ago.
North Okanagan finished at 15-29-2-1, three points ahead of the Posse. The Knights will not play the remainder of a game versus the Summerland Sting suspended Dec. 2 due to a blown transformer at Nor-Val Sports Centre.
Summerland was leading 4-1 with 4:01 left in the second period when the lights went out.
Grindrod’s Jaden Hay scored twice as the Knights enjoyed period leads of 2-1 and 4-2 in Princeton. Hay finished with 14 goals on the year.
The Knights obtained the 18-year-old veteran centre in a November trade for 17-year-old prize prospect Matthias Urbanski.
“He’s (Hay) done everything we’ve asked for and more,” said Knights head coach/GM Bryant Perrier. “He’s responded in a big way.”
Levi Harris, with his fourth, and Dean Whitcomb, with his 19th, also tallied for the Knights, who converted three powerplay goals.
“That was probably the best we’ve played all year,” said Perrier. “We have a young team but now it’s a case of maturity. We’re clearly the underdog against Osoyoos and we love it, but that last game with them was good. Some fans in the coffee shops here said it was the best they’ve ever seen the team here play.
“I told the kids it’s not how you start the playoffs, it’s how you finish them. They should feel good about making the playoffs, especially on the final night of the regular season.”
Lane French, with his first of the season, and Rylan Douglas, with his second, answered for the Posse.
Knights captain Layne Greene was awarded a penalty shot in the third period after being pulled down by Douglas. Greene unleashed a knuckler easily handled by Princeton goalie Jason Mailhiot.
Daniel Paul recorded 38 saves for his eighth win of the season.