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Red-hot Coyotes shut out regular season champion Storm to open conference final
The Osoyoos Coyotes continued their magical playoff run with an impressive 3-0 victory over the Kamloops Storm in game one of their best-of-seven conference final series Monday night in Kamloops.
Game two in the series was played Wednesday night in Kamloops, with game three and four set for the Sun Bowl Arena in Osoyoos on Friday and Saturday night, respectively.
The Coyotes are playing their best hockey of the season when it matters most as they have lost only one of 10 playoff games heading into Wednesday night’s contest in Kamloops.
Captain Colin Chmelka continued his brilliant play by opening the scoring Monday night just over three minutes into the game.
Rookie Luc Gradisar extended the lead with a power-play goal halfway through the opening 20 minutes.
Gradisar scored his second goal late in the second period and the Coyotes then played tremendous defence and goaltender Lawrence Langan made several big saves to preserve the shutout victory.
For the second-consecutive season, the 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 eliminated the North Okanagan Knights 7-4 last Thursday night at the Sun Bowl Arena to wrap up the series in five games.
If a fifth game is needed in the conference finals, 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.
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 [Thursday] 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 this weekend.
“It’s always nice to have a big crowd because the kids feed off that,” he said. “We had a very loud crowd that was right into the game at our last game against North Okanagan and the kids really fed off that energy and it helped us a lot.”
Puck drop for both games this weekend at the Sun Bowl Arena is 7:35 p.m.