The first weekend of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League 2023-24 season didn’t disappoint. The defending Teck Cup champion Kimberley Dynamiters won their opening game, the Eddie Mountain division regular season champs, the Columbia Valley Rockies gave Tayler Sincennes his first KIJHL win as a head coach and the Spokane Braves bounced back from defeat to earn their first win in three years.
In the first KIJHL Notebook of the season, coaches talked about their respective team performances and touched on players.
|Eddie Mountain Division|
|The Rockies outscored their opponents (Spokane and Princeton) 14-2 in two games, but what impressed Sincennes was that they scored in every way – short-handed, power-play and even-strength.
“We had everybody chip in (17 players collected a point),” he said.
Against Spokane, Sincennes felt they chased on offence a bit, then against Princeton, “we showed a lot of resolve.”
“They finished every check and made it really difficult on us and our young group,” he said. “Our group responded really well and answered back with six unanswered goals. They really responded to a physical test and kept their emotions in check.”
Second-year forward Kobe Mason, one of three alternate captains, has been awesome since returning, says Sincennes. He opened with two goals and four points.
“He’s a lead by example guy. I’m really excited to see what he can do this year,” he said.
|Fernie Ghostriders head coach-GM Ty Valin likes the step his team took from exhibition as they earned an 8-3 win against the Osoyoos Coyotes.
“I like how we pushed back when Osoyoos had a push at the end of the first,” said Valin. “We came out in the second period and took control of the game right away.”
Jack Lambert scored twice, including the winner, and Valin said Lambert has picked up where he left off last season when he had 13 points in 22 games.
“It helps kick start everything else and Jack has been a great leader,” said Valin. “He has been put in a situation as part of the leadership and embraced it.”
|Kimberley Dynamiters head coach-GM Derek Stuart liked how they controlled both games at even strength. They played twice at home, defeating Osoyoos 4-2, then lost 3-2 to Beaver Valley.
“We limited our opponents to eight scoring chances all weekend at even strength and they scored just one goal each,” said Stuart.
Tristan Weill and Parker Konneke, who played together on the Summerland Steam in 2021-22, each had three points.
“You can tell they have had success playing together. Their chemistry is strong,” said Stuart. “Tristan was the best player on the ice both nights and Parker was a difference-maker in our first game. We’re fortunate to have two of the league’s leading scorers from a few years ago.”
Konneke, a West Kelowna product, split last season between the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and the Alberta Junior Hockey League, playing 33 games and collecting 10 points. Weill played 10 games in the MJHL last season before returning to the Steam, then getting traded to the Dynamiters.
|Creston Valley Thunder Cats head coach-GM Brad Tobin hopes he has a team to be reckoned with in the Eddie Mountain division. During the weekend, he liked the chemistry he saw from the lines, especially the speed.
“We got comments from a few coaches that we look like a team that was skilled and pushed the pace,” said Tobin. “We are really happy with the way things are going.”
Players bringing speed are rookies Brendan Kindlein and Brandon Thomas.
“Kindlein’s a big body (6-1, 170-pounds) and is kind of a power forward. He looked really good in the preseason and it’s transferred to the regular season.
“Thomas is another kid like that,” continued Tobin. “He’s more of a skilled player, but he definitely plays at a high rate. We had those two playing as a unit at 4-on-4 a few times.”
|Chuck Wight, head coach-GM of the Golden Rockets, felt his team got better as the weekend went, going 1-2.
“It seemed to start clicking on Saturday night, but we didn’t get the result,” said Wight. “That was a little frustrating for most of the players. It was good to see them overcome that and get going on Sunday (6-3 win over Osoyoos).”
Against Osoyoos, Wight felt they executed better and put pressure on the defence.
Prezton Stewart, acquired from Summerland during the summer, collected four assists. Wight said Stewart, 18, moves the puck quickly to the right spots.
“I like that about him. He’s also very tenacious on the forecheck,” said Wight. “I think he’s got a lot of upside with our program.”
Stewart returns to the KIJHL from the Junior Prospect Hockey League, where he had 29 points in 22 games with Okanagan HC U18. Stewart had seven points in 34 games with the Steam two seasons ago.
Dominic Fiorentino, who had 16 goals and 28 points in 42 games last season, scored three over the weekend – two against Princeton and one against Osoyoos.
“He’s got a knack for that and a good release,” said Wight. “It’s good to see him get off to a good start.”
|Neil Murdoch Division|
|Nelson Leafs head coach Briar McNaney felt his team had a strong start with a 4-2 win over the Revelstoke Grizzlies. Defensively, he acknowledged that they’re going to give up opportunities.
“We made it a goal to protect our house as best as we can,” said McNaney. “All the shots are going to be from the perimeter. We’re OK with that.”
Jackson McLeod, 18, stopped 23 of 25 shots to earn his first KIJHL victory.
“He’s a big piece of what we have going on here,” said McNaney. “We’re very happy with his performance.”
|The Beaver Valley Nitehawks opened the season with a 3-2 road victory in Kimberley, a rematch of the Kootenay Conference Final from last season, and head coach-GM Terry Jones said they received great goaltending from Connor Stojan the first two periods. That allowed them to “get over the nervousness and find the flow of the game.”
Jones liked the opportunities their power-play had with players getting more comfortable with each other.
“We got a great power-play goal by Ethan Smyth set up by Connor Drake and Joel Smyth set the tone,” said Jones.
Beau Manegre netted the winner and Jones said he has meshed with linemates Hunter Hansen and Nash Hilworth.
“He is just a great teammate and came into camp in great shape and has taken a leadership role in our team culture,” said Jones.
|The Castlegar Rebels split their games on the weekend, defeating North Okanagan on Friday, then losing to Kelowna Saturday. Head coach Nick Headrick felt they were on pucks against North Okanagan and took away time and space.
They didn’t put out their best effort against Kelowna and Headrick said they handed the game by being undisciplined.
Defenceman Donovan Ouellette collected three assists, but what Headrick liked about his performance is that the Edmonton product keeps things simple.
“He doesn’t overthink things and is hard to play against,” said Headrick. “It was nice to see him produce. He is a steady force on the back end. He plays a simple, hard-nosed game.”
|Spokane Braves head coach-GM Darin Schumacher said his group did a great job learning from their 7-0 loss to Columbia Valley. Schumacher said the Rockies jumped on them early and took away their time and space.
“It was a tough loss, but we learned a lot and the guys really did a good job staying positive on the bench and after the game,” said Schumacher. “They regrouped immediately after in the bus and had very productive conversations on the way to Golden.”
Schumacher said he didn’t say much to his players.
“Logan Powers, Lance Insko, and Josh Humphreys have taken the lead in the locker room. I read a couple messages from former Braves player Derek Humphreys to the team that he wrote to me and the rest was our leadership group,” said Schumacher. “Derek told the guys to pressure the other team more and make sure to focus on offensive zone time and the goals will happen.”
The Braves earned a 4-1 win in Golden, with Dante Hughes scoring the eventual winner.
Schumacher said Hughes did a great job putting pressure on the other team in the offensive zone and used his teammates well.
|The Grand Forks Border Bruins head into the weekend looking for their first win after an 0-2 start, but head coach-GM David Hnatiuk said it’s a “starting point” with players joining the team near the end of pre-season.
“I feel that we have a boatload of potential here and it’s just waiting for it to click,” he said. “We have some guys getting caught up on systems and structure. We will get there, I’m not worried at all.”
Twenty-year-old goalie Ethan Shebansky stopped 27 of 28 shots in a 1-0 loss to Revelstoke.
“I think he played within his potential, but there is a bit more he can give and is capable of. I was really happy with the way he played Saturday,” said Hnatiuk, as Shebansky has a 2.60 goals against average with a .909 save percentage. “That’s the reason why we have Shebs, to have him play games like that. I’m looking forward to seeing him have a consistent year.”
|Bill Ohlhausen Division|
|The Kelowna Chiefs earned a split thanks to a 6-3 win over Castlegar after losing 5-2 to Sicamous. Chiefs head coach Travers Rebman said they weren’t pleased with the result against Sicamous, but noted they were short handed on the back end with four defencemen.
“We just scrapped that one and focused on playing the way we wanted Saturday at home where we executed our systems closer to where we expect,” he said. “We had a flat second period and addressed it in the second intermission and then came out as a more determined group in the third.”
Aiden Morcom and Jacob Shtaif each had three points and Rebman said he knows what he will get from them.
“They are more composed and dedicated to systems and can execute at a higher level, so the production should be there,” said Rebman. “Their success is coming from a higher level of detail in their game.”
|Morten Kjolby didn’t have to wait long to earn his first win as the Summerland Steam head coach. They defeated Grand Forks 3-2, then lost to North Okanagan by the same score.
“It felt great,” said Kjolby of the win. “It was nice to see these guys battle hard to earn their first win with a lineup mostly with rookies. What I liked was that we stuck to our plan and used our speed and kept things simple.”
Rookie Kyle Cyr collected three points over the two games and Kjolby said the forward created space and gave “himself an opportunity to get into shooting position and used his good shot.”
|The North Okanagan Knights earned a split and head coach-GM Liam McOnie liked the resiliency of his group.
“It was a tough loss in our home opener, but we didn’t quit and bounced back with a really strong 60-minute effort against Summerland on the road,” he said. “I think it speaks to the character of our group.”
Rookies Carson Haugan and Gage Parrel are tied with Cash Anderson for the team lead with three points.
“That’s a line that has very good skill and speed. They do a lot of little things really well,” said McOnie. “A couple of things we really stress are our forecheck and defensive zone and they have been committed at both ends.”
McOnie added for Haugan and Parrel to each have strong offensive starts is a confidence boost.
“For them to be able to get some chances even strength and on the power-play, it does a lot for them.”
|Osoyoos Coyotes head coach-GM Ken Law put his players through a hard skate to make sure they understand they have to work for 60 minutes. The Coyotes lost all three by a combined score of 18-8.
“The compete level has got to raise up immensely,” he said. “Their work ethic and paying the price to get the job done, I didn’t think we had any of that.”
Law saw some glimmers of hope from his young group, but there will be growing pains. Rookie Scott Dyck leads the team with three goals, while Logan Messer has four assists.
“We figured they were our best players for the weekend, and that is saying a lot when they are both first-year guys that played on AA zone teams last year,” said Law.
|The Princeton Posse got a split on their road trip that started with a 4-2 win in Golden, and ended with a 7-2 loss to Columbia Valley.
“Really for the group, even though the score was pretty slanted, going into that third period, I thought our group really dug in and pushed hard,” said head coach-GM Mark Readman. “Our compete level, our work rate was pretty high and consistent.”
The Rockies broke the game open with a four-goal second period, two of the goals came on special teams.
“Nate Glenn played a hell of a hockey game,” said Readman on his former goalie. “He made probably three or four game-changing saves in the first period.”
Tyson Horiachka and Lucas Sadownyk lead with three points each.
“For Tyson, it’s a full 200-foot game. He’s extremely responsible in the defensive zone. He’s really starting to find his touch around the net,” said Readman. “Lucas is a guy who we’re extremely fortunate to have. He’s a competitive, fiery guy, who hates to lose more than he likes to win. He is a steady force back there and works the offensive blueline like the best in our league.”
|Doug Birks Division|
|The Sicamous Eagles won two of their three games and head coach-GM Nick Deschenes liked their bounce-back performance in a 6-2 win over 100 Mile House, after losing 4-2 to the Chase Heat.
The Eagles head coach believes they have “an offensively dynamic group.”
“It’s just going to come down to tightening up our details without the puck,” he added.
No. 4, Parker Fournier, followed up a pre-season with five points in four games with a three-goal, seven-point performance during the weekend. In 32 games as a rookie last season for the Eagles, Fournier, a Salmon Arm product, had six goals and 15 points.
“He has put in a lot of work in the offseason and he’s playing the game at a slightly higher pace and level than most guys around him,” said Deschenes. “He’s creating time and space to get into areas to win races, to get pucks and get some offensive success.”
|Urgency was evident to Chase Heat head coach-GM Brad Fox in their 4-2 win over Sicamous. They also received strong goaltending from Meyer Gaume, who turned aside 32 shots, including 14 in the first period. Fox was also happy to see their special teams kill nine of 10 penalties.
“The urgency had a lot to do with the end result for us,” said Fox.
He also praised the effort of Gaume.
“When they make the stops they are supposed to, and timely saves when we fall – during a small rut and they bail us out – that’s what I saw him do all night long,” said Fox. “He gave us an opportunity in the second period when we were reeling for about 10 minutes.”
|The Kamloops Storm pulled out a win over the Creston Valley Thunder Cats with six seconds remaining in regulation. Sixteen-year-old Teghan Mullin broke the Thunder Cats’ heart with his late winner and head coach Jan Ludvig said he’s a very smart and patient player.
“He’s got a really good shot and thinks the game well.”
Ludvig said the game was “a hard fought battle.”
“We faced a little bit of adversity, played shorthanded quite a bit – we had a five-minute major called against us,” said Ludvig.
|The Revelstoke Grizzlies earned a split on opening weekend with a 1-0 win over Grand Forks after losing 4-2 to Nelson.
“It was kind of an eye-opener for some of these younger guys, but I think we bounced back against Grand Forks,” said associate coach Jiri Novak. “We played much better and were more dialed in.”
Rookie Nicholas Buckley, a point-per-game player with the Calgary Buffalo Hockey Association Hawks U18 AA team last season, scored the winner on the power-play with under four minutes remaining.
“We knew that Nicholas could score. He had a tough game against Nelson, but he played really well against Grand Forks,” said Novak.
Novak added that both teams were focused on their defensive play and goalies Jozef Kuchaslo and Ethan Shebansky, who he says are one of the best in the KIJHL, played really well.
“Jozef looked more dialed in against Grand Forks. He communicated with the D-core,” said Novak, of last year’s Top Goalie.
|Despite losing their opening two games, 100 Mile House Wranglers head coach-GM Dale Hladun felt his team played well against Creston Valley, and he took the responsibility of the loss against Sicamous.
Against Creston Valley, Hladun said goalie Ryder Gregga “was fantastic.” He was also very happy to see local Treyton Pacheco score his first junior goal.
When it came to their overall performance, Hladun knows he didn’t lean hard enough on the players towards defensive zone coverage, winning battles, and one-on-one situations.
“It certainly showed up, especially against Sicamous,” he said. “We just lost too many one-on-one battles.
“Full credit to Sicamous, to come out and play with the pace they did in a three-game weekend, and their third game. They had to get up pretty early on Sunday morning, for a 1:45 p.m. start.”
Hladun said Pacheco will be hard to play against.
“I really liked his compete level. He is going to be a pain in the butt to a lot of opponents.”
Another rookie contributing offensively was Jett Ronning, nephew of Cliff Ronning, a popular former Vancouver Canuck.
“Jett’s been fantastic and is definitely a Ronning,” said Hladun. “His work ethic is second to nobody in our club. He has good skating skills – a powerful skater and plays with an edge. It’s impressive how Jett plays.”