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Coyotes face Kelowna as playoffs start
The only hockey that really matters – playoff hockey – has arrived in Osoyoos and the hometown Coyotes insist they’re ready for another long and successful playoff run.
After finishing in third place during the regular season in the Okanagan Division last season, the Coyotes proceeded to go on a thrilling playoff run and won their division and came within one game of qualifying for the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) championship series.
Forward the calendar one year ahead and the Coyotes are in a very similar position.
They wrapped up the regular season Sunday in Summerland against the division-champion Steam and were whipped 8-4.
However, they had won six games in a row heading into that contest and are a confident group heading into the first-round playoff series against the Kelowna Chiefs.
That best-of-seven series kicked off Tuesday night in Kelowna and continued Wednesday night at the Sun Bowl Arena in Osoyoos.
Game three will be played in Kelowna Friday night, with game four scheduled for Saturday evening at the Sun Bowl Arena.
After leading the Okanagan Division for much of the regular season, the Chiefs fell to second place following a late-season swoon, while the Steam became one of the league’s best teams since the Christmas break and lost only a handful of games in 2014.
Summerland will be heavy favourites against the North Okanagan Knights in the other divisional semi-final series.
Coyotes’ captain Colin Chmelka is confident the team is capable of going on another extended playoff run.
“This is always the best time of the year,” said Chmelka, who led the Coyotes in scoring for the second-consecutive season. “We’ve played very well down the stretch and created the momentum we need to do well in the playoffs and now it’s time to pick up the intensity and play our best hockey of the season. We’re all really looking forward to another playoff run and hopefully to take one final step and go all the way to the championship series this time.”
While the Coyotes have one of the youngest teams in the league, they do have several key returning veterans from last year and this is going to help against Kelowna, said Chmelka.
“It’s up to the leadership group to get across that playoff hockey is a lot tougher and more physical than regular season hockey,” he said. “The guys you’re playing against are going 100 per cent 100 per cent of the time and it’s very tough and physical hockey and you have to be prepared for the increase in intensity.”
The Coyotes haven’t had much problem scoring goals all year, but playoff hockey often comes down to solid defensive play and great goaltending and this has to be a focus for the players, he said.
Chmelka believes the Coyotes have what it takes to compete against the Chiefs and win the series.
“It’s not going to be easy, but we’ve got a very good hockey club again this year and if we play as well as we’re capable of, I think we can beat any team in this league,” he said.
Head coach and general manager Ken Law is also confident his club can takes its game to a higher level in the playoffs.
“We’ve played very well down the stretch and I think the kids are ready to take their game to another level,” he said. “We have a young group, but we’re a very good skating club that competes hard and I think we’re capable of some big things if we play as well as I think we can.”
Interestingly, the Chiefs had one of the KIJHL’s best road records as they lost only six games out of 26 in regulation time, while the Coyotes had one of the best home records in the league with 17 wins at the Sun Bowl Arena.
The Coyotes had a decent 12-14 road record, while the Chiefs were barely above .500 on home ice.
Even though the Chiefs struggled late in the regular season and the Coyotes played exceptionally well, this is going to be a tough series and one that will ultimately be decided by which team increases its intensity level and executes the best, said Law.
“We have to be committed to executing in all three zones and we have to use our speed to create chances and score goals,” he said. “If we play like we can, we’ll be very tough to beat.
“We’re all hoping for another long playoff run, but it’s not going to be easy and we’re going to have to play the best hockey we’ve played all season. I think we can do it, but now it’s up to the boys.”
If a fifth game is needed, it will be played in Kelowna next Tuesday and game six, if necessary, will be played at the Sun Bowl Arena next Wednesday.