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COYOTES PLAYING THEIR BEST HOCKEY OF THE SEASON WITH PLAYOFFS ONLY A COUPLE OF WEEKS AWAY
If his players remain as committed to playing defensive hockey as they have been over the past six or seven weeks, the Osoyoos Coyotes are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the rapidly-approaching Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) playoffs, says head coach and general manager Ken Law.
“We can score goals with the best teams in the league,” said Law following the Coyotes’ impressive 5-3 win over the Summerland Steam Saturday night at the Sun Bowl Arena. “But we have to realize it’s even more important to keep the puck out of our own net.
“If we continue to show the commitment to team defence that we have shown over the past few weeks, there’s no reason we can’t cause some real damage and go a long way in the playoffs this year.”
In what has been a wild rollercoaster ride of a 2012-13 regular season, the Coyotes got off to a tremendous start going 12-2 to lead the entire KIJHL after the first month of play.
That winning streak was followed by a month of horrendous play as the Coyotes got hit hard by a rash of injuries and poor defensive play and lost 13 of their next 15 games to seemingly drop out of contention in the Okanagan Shuswap Division.
However, the Coyotes have been playing what Law calls their best hockey of the season through late December and all of January as they only lost a couple of games in regulation time over the next seven weeks.
Following the victory over Summerland on Sunday, the Coyotes are once again back in contention to capture first place in their division as they are now tied with Princeton in second place with 56 points. Princeton holds one game in hand. Kelowna Chiefs continue to lead the division with 60 points. They have also played one less game than the Coyotes.
The Coyotes only have six games left in the regular season following Wednesday’s crucial game on home ice against Princeton.
After hosting North Okanagan Saturday night on home ice, the Coyotes’ regular season fortunes will be determined as they play four road games in Penticton, Columbia Valley, Golden and Princeton between February 6 -15.
They will wrap up the regular season Saturday, Feb. 16 on home ice against Summerland.
Law recognizes his team is going to have to win five or six of those games if they want to catch Kelowna for first place.
“It would be nice to finish in first place, but I’m more concerned with us continuing to play good defensive hockey and continuing to improve as a team as we head into the playoffs,” he said. “If we keep working on the little things we’ve been doing and keep improving on the defensive side of the game, I think we’re going to have a great chance to go a long way in the playoffs.”
Being able to ice a healthy lineup with all his best players available for duty is a luxury he hasn’t had all season and this is a big reason the club’s fortunes are again on the upswing, said Law.
“We’re rolling four lines that are playing great and can play with anybody in this league,” he said. “We’ve got all of our guys back from injury and we’re healthy again and that’s why I think we’re playing our best hockey right now.
“If we continue to play this way and continue to commit to defence, I really like our chances.”
Garrett Kucher opened the scoring four minutes into the game and Colin Chmelka made it 2-0 less than a minute later as the Coyotes never trailed in this contest.
After Summerland got on the board late in the first period, they tied things up with a power-play goal late in the second period.
Troy Maclise scored 38 seconds into the third period to give the Coyotes a 3-2 lead, before Summerland tied it up only 30 seconds later.
Chmelka scored the eventual game winner tapping in a rebound from a shot by Evan Last. Liam Neary also drew an assist.
Last scored on a beautiful breakaway goal where he outskated several defenders to put the game out of reach with six minutes left.