Morning Star Staff
Just when their season appeared to be over, the North Okanagan Knights caught a break playing shorthanded.
The Knights used the final six minutes wisely and stopped the host Summerland Steam 5-3 before 400 fans Wednesday night.
The Game 7 glory moves the Knights into the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League Okanagan Division final series against the Osoyoos Coyotes starting tonight at the Desert Bowl.
Brett Hawrys went around a fallen d-man just outside the Steam blueline and buried a wrister upstairs, short side on Brett Huber for the 3-3 equalizer with Ryley Booth in the box for a delay of game penalty.
Booth had eight seconds remaining in his minor for shooting the puck over the glass. The Steam had, six seconds earlier, taken a 3-2 lead on Paulsen Lautard’s powerplay snipe with Paul Biegel off for holding.
“This win was indicative of how the entire season and this series has gone for us, all wrapped up in one game,” said Knights’ head coach Shawn Webb, whose club lost a 2-1 overtime thriller in Game 6 Tuesday night in Armstrong.
Webb called a timeout late in the penalty kill (with Booth off). A few minutes later, Morgan Johnston converted the winner top shelf on a one-timer in the high slot after a nice feed by Midget affiliate Cole Woodliffe.
“We told the boys, ‘We can either feel sorry for ourselves and make excuses for the next four months or we can go out and extend the season.’ I’m not sure who on the bench said, ‘Why wait.’ The boys were pretty elated after this one.”
Tanner Burns and Booth counted powerplay goals six minutes apart to give North Okanagan a 2-0 first-period lead. Lautard had the only goal of the second period, while Sam Nigg levelled the score four minutes into the third.
Johnston added an empty-netter with 36 seconds to play after a Knights’ shot block. Matt Halvorson drew the assist.
The Knights, who finished 20 points behind the Steam, outshot them 31-23 with Zach Dyment again doing a fabulous Dustin Nikkel impersonation. Nikkel, who tended goal for the BCHL Trail Smoke Eaters this year, was the Knights’ playoff hero last season.
“Zach Dyment is playing like Nikkel right now,” said Webb. “We were happy for our 20-year-olds (Burns, captain TJ Christensen and Blake Culbert), but also for Zach. He’s given us a chance to win every game, but we hadn’t been giving him any offence.”
Nigg scored at 3:23 of overtime as the Steam won the sixth game before 350 fans at Nor-Val Sports Centre.
Jordan Boultbee connected in the second period for Summerland, while Ryan Kelm put the Knights ahead in the first.
The Knights and Osoyoos split the regular season with four wins apiece. They also met last year in the division final with the Knights going up 3-1 and taking Game 7.
Osoyoos placed third, nine points in front of the Knights. The Heat swept the second-place Kelowna Chiefs, who were never the same team after losing league-leading sniper Nick Josephs to the BCHL.
Game 2 goes Saturday night in Osoyoos with the third and fourth tilts set for Monday and Tuesday in Armstrong.