First star Dustin Nikkel recorded 56 saves as the North Okanagan Knights held off the Castlegar Rebels 3-2 Saturday night.
The Knights got goals from d-man Dryden Profeit and centres Connor Richards and Mat Lambert to avoid being swept in the best-of-seven Kootenay International Junior Hockey League final playoff series. Game 5 goes Monday night in Castlegar. A sixth game, if required, would go Wednesday night in Armstrong.
Dustin Nikkel, a 19-year-old Kelowna product, assessing Game 4: “It was a battle till the end for sure. The boys kept us in it there here and there and buried a few pucks which was nice to see, for once. They were helping me out lots tonight. They took a couple off the line for me when I couldn’t find it. They’ve been clearing the front for me and letting me see the puck and letting me make the save instead of blocking it all the time.”
Darren Medeiros and Stuart Walton countered for the Rebels, who stormed the Knights’ zone in the final minutes pressing for the equalizer. North Okanagan blueliner Mac Ferner blocked several shots on the night, none bigger than a knee save from close range with 4.5 seconds remaining before 450 fans at Nor-Val Centre.
The Knights managed just 20 shots on Jordan Gluck. North Okanagan was without injured leading scorers Matty Saharchuk and Morgan Johnston, and had four Midget call-ups in the lineup.
Lambert netted the goal of the night, taking a wicked hit just before going roof daddy from the mid slot with a wrister, making it 3-1. Medeiros clicked, unassisted, just 43 seconds later to make things interesting.
“The fact that we have so many APs playing and some of our top guys out right now, is huge, and I really don’t even know how we’re keeping up with these guys,” added Nikkel, who has a scorching 1.87 GAA and .946 save percentage in 17 playoff games.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pounder won two games during a brief stint with the BCHL Salmon Arm SilverBacks last fall.
“Some things might be a little slower paced, but it’s still the same. I gotta keep my mind in it and every shot counts.”
North Okanagan won the KIJHL playoff crown in 1993-94 when they were based in Enderby and known as the Kings. The Rebels won the title in 1995-96 and last played for the title in 2010-11 when they bowed to Osoyoos.
Winner of this series advances to the Cyclone Taylor Cup, hosted by the Comox Valley Glacier Kings, April 11-14.