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Coyotes advance to KIJHL’s final four after eliminating Knights; will face Kamloops Storm in conference finals
For the second-consecutive season, the Osoyoos Coyotes are the Okanagan Division champions of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) and have advanced to the league’s semi-finals.
The Coyotes continued to play inspired hockey as they defeated the North Okanagan Knights 7-4 Thursday night at the Sun Bowl Arena to eliminate the Knights in five games in their best-of-seven series.
After sweeping the Kelowna Chiefs in the opening round, the Coyotes have lost only one of nine playoff games.
They will face the Kamloops Storm – the 2013-14 KIJHL regular season champions – in the league semi-finals.
Coyotes’ owner Randy Bedard and Storm ownership finalized details for the series on Thursday morning and confirmed game one in the best-of-seven series will take place Monday night in Kamloops.
Game two is set for Kamloops on Wednesday, March 19.
The Coyotes will host games three and four next Friday and Saturday night, respectively.
If a fifth game is needed, it will be played on Sunday in Kamloops.
If game six is needed, the series will return to Osoyoos on Tuesday, March 25.
If a seventh-and-deciding game is needed, it will be played in Kamloops on Wednesday, March 26.
The Knights scored three of their four goals Thursday night on the power play. Besides that, the Coyotes dominated the game, outshooting the visitors 46-28.
Head coach and general manager Ken Law believed his team was ready to play good hockey in the playoffs as they won six of their final seven regular-season games, but admitted he didn’t think they would lose only one game through two series.
“We’re playing very well, no doubt about that,” said Law. “We had a little bit of a let up last night in the first period because we took a couple of stupid penalties, but we got right back on track and took over and ended the series like we wanted to.
“I sort of knew this team was peaking at the right time heading into the playoffs, but the guys are really communicating well and feeding off each other and they’ve really come together as a team.”
While they have cruised through the first two rounds, Law knows things are going to get a lot tougher against Kamloops.
The Storm lost only nine of 52 regular season games and finished with 85 points, 26 more than the Coyotes.
The Storm have “a big advantage” playing on an Olympic-sized ice surface, however, Law is confident his players will continue to play well and give Kamloops all they can handle.
“It’s a bit of an advantage for them playing on the big ice, so we’ll have to make some adjustments to make it feel like we’re playing on regulation ice,” he said. “Our attitude is we’ll have to take it game by game and continue to play good hockey and see what happens.”
The Storm lineup is loaded with several players who started the season in the British Columbia Hockey League and a couple from the Western Hockey League, so they are a formidable opponent, said Law.
“But they have weaknesses like any hockey club and we’re going to have to exploit those weaknesses,” he said. “We’re playing great hockey and we’ve got a very confident group so it should be a very good series.”
The Coyotes lost in game seven of the league semi-finals to the Knights last year and will do everything they can to upset the Storm and reach the league finals, said Law.
Law expects loud and boisterous crowds at the Sun Bowl Arena when the series shifts back to Osoyoos late next week.
“It’s always nice to have a big crowd because the kids feed off that,” he said. “Last night we had a crowd that was right into the game and very loud and it really helps our guys when we fell behind a little bit.”
Luc Gradisar opening the scoring just over three minutes into the contest scoring a power-play goal.
The Knights responded with two power-play goals in rapid succession to take a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.
The Coyotes scored three goals in four minutes early in the second period to grab a 4-2 lead with Aaron Azevedo, Rory Neary and Troy Maclise getting the goals.
The Knights scored another power-play goal with less than three minutes left in the period to narrow the lead to 4-3 and tied it up with just over a minute left.
Captain Colin Chmelka scored the eventual game winner 13 seconds later to give the Coyotes a 5-4 lead after 40 minutes of play.
The Coyotes wrapped up the game – and series – when Rainer Glimpel and Colten Braid scored 27 seconds apart early in the third period.