The 2021-22 Kootenay International Junior Hockey League regular season wraps up on Feb. 19 and there are still two playoff spots mathematically available. This week’s KIJHL Notebook connects with the leaders of each team to talk about how their respective teams are playing as the season comes to a close.
Eddie Mountain Division
Kayde Kinaschuk of the Columbia Valley Rockies said he feels they have been playing really well lately as they have nine wins in their last 10 games, and are on a seven-game winning streak.
“We are playing as a team and everyone has bought in,” said Kinaschuk.
All of the Rockies are excited with the playoffs nearing.
“They are huge games and I think we are just trying to build up and play better every game until the playoffs,” he said.
Kimberley Dynamiters captain Ryan Bennett said they have been making a good push for first in their division, as they chase the Rockies.
“Going into these last two weekends of the regular season, I think it’s going to be good for us,” said Bennett, as they are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games.
Inside the dressing room, Bennett said the feeling is “awesome, everyone is so excited to get into it.”
“We’ve been trying to explain to the guys how different the playoffs are,” said Bennett. “How exciting it can be, the whole way through. I think everyone is really looking forward to it. We are just trying to finish the regular season here off on top.”
Fernie Ghostriders captain Kyle Klein said they have gone through some ups and downs, but feels the players are coming together. The Ghostriders are 4-5-0-1 in their last 10 games.
“It’s a great group and we have been fixing things in the D-zone and things are good,” said Klein. “The dressing room is great. The guys are close.”
Jordan Lario captain of the Golden Rockets said they have really started to get into the groove to get ready for playoffs.
“We’ve been kind of gifted early with a chance to make the playoffs and even though we have been the bottom team for a little while now, I feel like we are really coming together as a team,” said Lario, as the Rockets are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. “We are ready to make that push in the playoffs.”
In the dressing room, the Rockets are really feeling like a team.
“I feel like being such a younger team, it’s been a little build up and getting the younger guys used to the KIJHL.”
Neil Murdoch Division
Tyler Pisiak captain of the Nelson Leafs said the group is feeling really good about their play, especially being on an 12-game winning streak.
“It’s fun to go to the rink every day,” he said. “Everyone on the team feels like we can beat anybody right now. It’s a lot of fun.
“We’re on such a roll just because the morale in the dressing room is so high. All of us are stoked,” continued Pisiak of the feeling in the dressing room. “Practices are getting more intense. Everyone is getting really excited.
Brennan Wilson captain of the Beaver Valley Nitehawks said they have been playing pretty well. He said (Head Coach) Terry has a good plan for the young team. After going through some ups and downs, he feels they are pulling it back together.
“We’re getting some good momentum going into the playoffs,” said Wilson, as the Nitehawks are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. “We have a lot of guys focused on the same goal.”
Wilson added the Nitehawks are tense in a good way in their dressing room.
“Everyone is really focused,” he said. “It’s a good thing to see as guys come to the rink, goof around for a little bit, then you are dialed in for practise. We are all there to get better. It’s crunch time.”
Goalie Owen Albers made his BCHL debut with the Trail Smoke Eater, earning the third star on Feb. 4 when he made 27 saves on 29 shots. Albers played again, seeing 14 minutes of action against the Penticton Vees, making seven saves on eight shots.
Corbin Cockerill captain of the Creston Valley Thunder Cats said they feel really good about their play of late (five wins in 10 games), adding that most of the games they are playing they are outshooting teams, whether they are winning or losing.
“Our systems have started clicking as we get towards the end of the year,” he said. “Everybody trusts each other a lot more than we did systems-wise earlier in the year. We really like where we’re at right now. How we are playing and carry that into the playoffs.”
They are excited in the dressing room and as one of two 20-year-olds on the team, Cockerill said he is the only guy who has played in the playoffs.
“I try to get everybody as excited as possible because the playoffs are a whole different beast than the regular season,” said Cockerill.
Griffen Ryden of the Castlegar Rebels said they had a tough start into 2022, especially dealing with COVID-19, however, he feels they are returning to playing better hockey.
“We just need to keep getting better, getting closer to the playoffs because there aren’t a lot of games left,” he said. “Hopefully we can get back on the swing of things and go into the playoffs on a good note.”
In the room, Ryden said they all know what their team can do and “what we’re capable of.”
“We come to the rink everyday ready to work and prove to everyone what our team can do come playoff time,” he said. “We are feeling good, we are getting really excited about the playoffs and I think we can definitely feel that in the room.”
Ray Warrack, captain of the Grand Forks Border Bruins, said they never have a problem with their work ethic.
“Our group shows up every night and we give it our all, but as a whole it’s just about getting better every day and focusing on moving forward,” said Warrack. “Each guy is focusing on getting better. That’s how we all feel.”
Their dressing room has a nothing-to-lose attitude.
“Let’s go out there and give it everything we have got. Let’s end the season on a high note,” he said. “That is how everyone is feeling.”
Bill Ohlhausen Division
Osoyoos Coyotes captain Nathan Hannon said lately they have been playing pretty well.
“I thought one of our best games of the year, despite it being a shootout loss, was against Kamloops,” he said. “We are playing well because we have a big goal in mind, which is obviously the playoffs and the playoff championship.”
There is excitement and nerves in the dressing room, but more excitement with the playoffs nearing.
“We know how special this group is and the potential we have to go on a pretty deep run,” said Hannon. “Everyone is doing their part, hitting the gym, practicing as hard as they can every day because we are all extremely excited for what we can possibly do here. I have never been on such a good, close knit team with so much potential.”
Ty Marchant captain of the Kelowna Chiefs said they have been playing pretty well recently (7-2-0-1). They have some new additions to the lineup that have really helped them out and are playing their system well.
“It’s good, everyone is really excited,” he said of the environment in the dressing room heading into the playoffs. “We’ve got some rookies that have never experienced it before. They are excited to see what it’s like. All the vets that have been there before, they are trying to get back to it not having playoffs last year. We’re just looking forward to it.”
Cole Waldbillig captain of the Summerland Steam said they were on a bit of a skid coming into their Tuesday game against Princeton.
“We have been playing a more physical game lately, more playoff style and we’ve been in a lot of games where we have been going into the third period down a few goals. We’ve come back and made gains – games that went to overtime. A few comeback wins so that was really nice to see,” said Waldbillig, as the Steam are 4-3-2-1 in their last 10. “Our team is playing well, we’re getting more effort from our depth guys and more scoring from them, which has been nice.”
In the dressing room, the players are having fun.
“It’s just enjoyable to be around. Our bus rides have always been lots of fun. It seems like we know in our dressing room you can never count us out, especially late in a game. And Mark (MacMillan), our coach, has done a super good job of fostering a positive environment for our young guys. He is always open to talk. He has a really good open door policy.”
Jake McCulley captain of the Princeton Posse said they have been hot since the Christmas break, adding that since the New Year they “have come in flying.”
“Spirits are really high, all the boys are buzzing, and there is nothing but good energy in the room, everyone is really excited,” said McCulley. “We want to keep pushing hard every day. It’s just a really tight group and it helps that we’re clicking well on the ice.”
Forward Luken Murray suited up as an affiliate for the Merritt Centennials on Feb. 4 and 5, playing against West Kelowna and Prince George.
North Okanagan Knights captain Kyle Bax said they have struggled with adversity.
“We have been battling injuries all year and I don’t think we have had a very full roster for most of the year, so it’s been tough, but I think everyone’s minds are still upbeat,” he said. “I think we are doing well.”
In the dressing room, guys are focused on having fun.
“That’s what it’s all about,” said Bax. “I think that actually helps a lot with morale. Everyone just wants to stay loose and have fun and then if we win, we win, which would be awesome. I think everyone is still having fun. We just have a really good core group of guys that are all young.”
Doug Birks Division
Cole Berg captain of the Revelstoke Grizzlies said when they are focused and dialed in, they can compete with any team in the league.
“I’ve been pretty confident with how we have been playing,” said Berg, as the Grizzlies are on a five-game winning streak and have won nine of their last 10. “Everybody has been stepping up, and playing their role. It has been awesome.”
There is also an inner motivation in the room to win.
“Nobody wants to be going home early so everyone is really focused,” he said. “We are focused on what we have to do to make sure we are successful in the playoffs.”
Jameson Rende of the Kamloops Storm said they had a slow start to 2022, dropping some games they would like back.
“We picked it up with a big win against Osoyoos and I think we’re rolling into playoffs,” said Rende, as they have won three of their last five games.
Players come to the rink happy and their room has lots of energy.
“I think everyone is just kind of excited to get going here in a couple weeks,” he said. “We are showing up with tons of energy in our practices. We’re just looking to make a deep playoff run.”
Jacob Biensch captain of the Chase Heat said he and his teammates feel they are playing well and are gaining more confidence in their play as they have won three of their last five. They are getting key guys back from injuries as early on they struggled with that. They have more confidence heading into the playoffs and are excited.
“We are playing at the top of our game and hopefully we can keep it going here,” he said. “I’d say we have a lot of swagger and confidence in the room. We’re ready to battle – we know what it’s going to have to take to win in this league.”
Biensch said there are four of them who were in the 2019 playoffs that lost out in the first round.
“You have got to respect your opponent no matter if you are the underdog or the top dog, you’ve got to come to play,” he said.
Isaac Thomas captain of the Sicamous Eagles said they are really happy with how they have been playing.
“Having that coaching staff and that switch really gave us a new outlook on our game and how we play. I think we’ve really embraced how we play in our systems,” he said, as the Eagles have won two of their last five games and five of 10. “It’s starting to reward us here.”
In the dressing room, Thomas said the group is ready for the playoffs.
“We are dialing in here, our practices are getting more and more intense every day,” said Thomas, who is proud of his teammates and how they are working under new Head Coach Nick Deschenes’ system. “Guys are happy, spirits are high. We’re really happy with the way things are going for us right now.”
100 Mile House captain Ethan Sanders said that their performance has been up and down as they have won one game in their last five.
“I feel like sometimes we have good periods and then we have our bad periods. It’s just not very consistent,” he said.
The feel in the dressing room is pretty good.
“Everybody is still trying to keep positive and keep pushing forward,” said Sanders. “I think it’s important to have the last couple games to be strong. Going into camps with confidence. Going into next year with that confidence as well.”