KIJHL Notebook: Teck Cup playoffs

In speaking with coaches leading up to the start of the KIJHL Teck Cup playoffs for this Notebook, Kamloops Storm bench boss Jan Ludvig likely provided the best quote as the Quest for the Teck Cup begins tomorrow.

“It’s gonna be like a good boxing match,” said Ludvig of their matchup with the Sicamous Eagles. “Whoever flinches, whoever blinks first.”

Everyone always looks forward to the playoffs and great battles, hopefully without anyone getting hurt.

Columbia Valley Rockies Head Coach-GM Emery Olauson knows things will tighten up defensively in the playoffs, but he added, “we’ve done a good job of wearing down on our opponents and playing at a high tempo.”

He added they are making really good decisions with the puck through the neutral zone. They know when to attack and when to wait to get pucks deep in on the forecheck.

“We feel like our style of play lends itself well to either playing in low scoring games with teams or if things crack open, we can play up and down the ice with anyone too,” said Olauson. “We’re playing a great opponent, Fernie is going to continue playing the way they were in the second half. I think they were one of the hottest teams in the league over the last 20 games. It’s gonna be quite a test.”

Fernie Ghostriders Head Coach-GM Ty Valin liked his team’s play in the second last weekend of the season because of the players’ willingness to play a complete game. Consistency has been something they have worked on all year.

“It seems like it has been better as of late,” he said. “In a league like this, where we take five minutes off, it can hurt you in the outcome and our guys are learning the hard way not to do things like that.”

With the warm-up to the real season now over to Valin, the real season is about to begin.

“You have to be ready to go each night.”

Valin knows they are facing an offensively skilled team that they have to be prepared to defend.

“It’s going to be some good hockey and a really good series,” he said.

The Ghostriders won two of the final three games against the Rockies in the regular season.

Dynamiters Head Coach-GM Derek Stuart said while it was difficult for his team to play some games later into the season, they’ve righted their ship by playing more to their identity of being fast, physical and taking care of defence first.

Stuart believes the matchup with Golden is good for them as long as they play their game.

“It’s just about playing Dynamiters hockey, I’m not focusing too much on our opponent, but I think this year, as opposed to years past, we do have to pay more special attention to Golden.”

Stuart believes discipline is going to be a factor, however he also mentioned smart puck management.

“When we’re making good decisions with the puck, we’re pretty tough to generate scoring chances against. If we’re not very good with the puck, we seem to gift-wrap scoring chances to our opponents. That’s gonna be another key factor.” 

Rockets Head Coach-GM Chuck Wight felt that his team played with better tempo and pace in their remaining games, which they won two of three to close the season.

“It’s a big part of our game to keep that going as well as be more disciplined, which we saw in the second half,” said Wight.

Last week the Rockets went to Lake Louise for team building. Following that, they prepared to play the Kimberley Dynamiters. The Rockets head into the series having won three of their last four games against the Dynamiters.

“You have two teams that are fairly deep up front and the games that we’ve played them where the majority of the time we were playing even strength, they’ve been some great games with both teams counter-attacking and playing strong, transitional hockey,” he said “I anticipate that and it comes down to who brings their A game the most and whoever is the most disciplined.”

The Rockies have won three of their last four games against the Dynamiters.

Grand Forks Border Bruins Head Coach-GM Dave Hnatiuk said that despite some losses in their final 10 games, there has been a lot of good things the players have done.

“I’m just really looking to build off those good moments, the good teaching moments and keep taking steps forward with our team tactics,” he said. “We focus on our game and we’re aware of what the opposition will be looking to do and approach it as another game.”

Hnatiuk said in facing the Creston Valley Thunder Cats, it’s two teams that don’t really know each other as they split their two games.

“After playing so many divisional games, especially so many in the last 10, it’s nice to get out of the division for a little while and play a team you haven’t,” he said. “That’s kind of what I like about it. It gives us a break from Nelson or Beaver Valley.”

Hnatiuk wants to see the different leadership now emerge late in the year, especially from players such as Spencer Horning.

“He doesn’t wear a letter, but he’s a 20-year-old. I’ve seen Spencer really pick it up lately verbally by example in practicing and in games,” he said. “It’s really fun to watch these new playoff leaders emerge out of the room. I’m sure I’m gonna see some more out of my 20-year-old’s coming up over the next few days.”

Creston Valley Thunder Cats Head Coach-GM Brad Tobin has seen line chemistry start to “blossom” a little bit. They have settled in on who will play on their top three lines.

“I think those guys finding chemistry the last couple of games have been pretty solid,” said Tobin. “I’m still tinkering with our D-core and seeing who fits where and what situations we are going to use guys in.”

Tobin says for their group, they feel they have a good chance to make noise against the Border Bruins.

“It’s a little bit of a different playoff series because we’re not divisional rivals. It might take a bit for both teams to figure each other out.”

To have success, Tobin wants to see his players get lots of shots on net, create lots of traffic for the Border Bruins goalies.

“Secondary scoring for us is going to be huge,” he said. “We need another line to chip in a goal when they can.”

Tobin believes they can count on Stavros Koutsantonis and Brayden MacKay, has also chipped in more.

Nelson Leafs Head Coach Briar McNaney has liked the buy-in from his players heading into the Teck Cup playoffs.

“We’re pretty proud of the fact we’re only allowing four goals in our last four games and two shutouts (both against the Border Bruins),” said McNaney. “They bought into what we’ve been asking for in our game plan. What more can you ask out of your players?”

When it comes to facing the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, McNaney said Terry Jones has built a good reputation of always having hard-working, bought in, hard-core checking teams. 

“I’m looking forward to the challenge of having our guys be able to play through that sort of adversity in play style in round one,” he said. “I think we’ve proven through them and Grand Forks that we can play through that with success. I like the way our guys are going right now. I’m pretty confident about round one.”

Since McNaney took over the Leafs bench, they have played the Nitehawks twice and earned a split with a 6-3 win after losing 7-4.

Beaver Valley Nitehawks Head Coach-GM Terry Jones likes how his team has played despite having key players out of the lineup. He knows facing Nelson in the first round will be difficult.

“They are a tough team to play against and have a solid defensive structure and good goaltending,” he said. “Their leaders are solid, dependable players who have the experience of a long playoff run. We will have to be at our best to beat them, it should be a great series.”

To have success against the Leafs, Jones knows his team needs to play a complete game, remain disciplined and be better on their special teams.

“I would love to see our team be successful on the power play, it has been something we are working on and have shown some gradual improvement over the past several games,” he said.

Mark Readman, Head Coach-GM of the Princeton Posse, has liked their overall consistency.

“We’ve had some pretty strong goaltending this year, but at the same time, our goals against has been consistently low within the league,” he said. “We’ve been in the top-five of goals against here all season. I think our ability to really lock some games down, or be stingy defensively and stifle the opponent’s ability to produce some offence is a key for us.”

He added while it did slip in the last five to six games, a solid week of practice will tighten that up. The group has been producing well offensively.

In 2023, the Posse won all three games against the Steam by a combined score of 17-4.

During a tough weekend in Revelstoke and Sicamous, Summerland Steam Head Coach-GM Mark MacMillan was impressed with his players in the third period as they came out with emotion and fire.

I hope that is what we can build on into this weekend,” said MacMillan. “It’s no secret we are under dogs, Princeton finished first in the league. They kind of had our number this year.  Diving right into that,  and telling them there are situations every year in every league that an underdog wins. How the playoffs are a whole new mentality. I preach to the guys to play the right way, play hard, block shots, play physical.”

MacMillan is very happy with the play of his goalies Ben Lewis and Rogan Bacon. MacMillan said if they play well and the team plays the right way, then they can find some success.

For Ken Law of the Osoyoos Coyotes, it was important to get some players back from injury and they are getting closer to having a full team. 

“Going into the playoffs, that will be huge for us,” said the Coyotes Head Coach. 

In matching up with North Okanagan, Law said if they are playing healthy and with a full squad, he feels they matchup really well.  He credited the work done by North Okanagan with the players they have brought in.

“They’ve got a little bit of a role going on, so home ice advantage will be huge in the first two games,” he said. “We’re a hard team to contain. We’ve got guys that can put the puck in the net, and in order for us to be successful, we’re gonna have to monitor and make sure we’re aware of their key guys because they can also put pucks in.”

The way the North Okanagan Knights have checked opponents, defended hard, and played smart with energy, those are things that Head Coach-GM Liam McOnie has liked from his team. He was also impressed that his players didn’t allow their emotions to dictate the play and are taking things shift by shift and building through the game.

McOnie likes how his team matches up with the Coyotes.

“I think we’re pretty equal as far as our top-end talent,” he said. “Both teams have had ups and downs throughout the regular season. It’s gonna be a series of who makes fewer mistakes.”

The Knights faced the Coyotes twice in 2023 and won both games,

During the final weekend of the regular season, Revelstoke Grizzlies Head Coach-GM Ryan Parent saw urgency in his players.

“I saw guys playing with more heart and character and we want to trend in that direction into the playoffs,” said Parent, noting they had locked up first-place in their division for a long period. “We know we have to work, it’s the characteristic of our team, and we have to work for our wins. Collectively, I think we’re on the right track.”

In having a veteran group, Parent believes the Grizzlies will be able to turn the volume up towards the playoffs. He feels they have a very good team and in various games has seen different guys step up. Parent is excited to see what their team does going forward, especially with the strong depth they have. When it comes to playing the 100 Mile House Wranglers, Parent knows they are facing a much improved team, who they have defeated three times in 2023.

“They’ve done a great job with that group and have some good talent,” he said. “They’re well coached and we’ve got a lot of respect for the way they play, especially in the back half of the season. I think they’re going to be a formidable opponent, and we’re gonna have to be ready every game. It’s not easy to play up in 100 Mile.”

Since Christmas, 100 Mile House Wranglers Head Coach-GM Dale Hladun has liked how well his players have performed and their record. Up to Dec. 1, the Wranglers only had five wins.

In working with his players, who make up the youngest team in the KIJHL with an average age of 18.05, all the work done was about getting into the playoffs. In facing the defending Teck Cup champions and the bronze medal winners from the Cyclone Taylor Cup, Hladun knows they have their hands full.

“We’re facing a very prepared team, a very experienced team, a very talented team,” he said. “Our mandate is we gotta avoid trying to go toe-to-toe with them. We’re gonna have to repel their attacks and be as strong as we can be as a five-0man unit against them. Goaltending always plays an important role and both our goalies are starting to really find their way so I’m pretty comfortable with either one of the guys that we’re gonna start.”

Jan Ludvig is happy how the Kamloops Storm have become a team and know they have to do it as a group. To him, they don’t have any “stars or superstars, we’re a hard-working bunch.”

“In the playoffs, a lot of times it’s not about hockey, but about who wants it more and who’s willing to pay the bigger price,” said the Storm Head Coach. “I like what I see.”

Ludvig foresees a tight series as all their matchups were even and he feels the Sicamous Eagles are a good team. The two teams only played twice since Dec. 7 with each winning a game.

Nick Deschenes is viewing the setback of a few losses towards the end of the Eagles’ season as an opening to re-evaluate their game. They can make sure their weaknesses are addressed before the playoffs start.

Deschenes has told his players they need to be in a good head space.  It’s just about preparing.

“Four games in five days of playoff hockey is gonna be demanding,” he said. “We’re a young group (average age is 18.18), we don’t have a lot of experience in the playoffs. I hope our excitement and kind of being a little bit naive to the whole process, might help us stay relaxed and play and perform our best.”

Deschenes said they have played the Storm close all season and he added that the Storm added high-end players.

“They’re a strong team and there’s such an X factor with that Olympic ice sheet too,” he said. “I just hope for our guys, we put our best foot forward.”