Arrow Lakes hockey fans were treated to hard-hitting Junior B hockey action Friday, Dec. 7 at the Nakusp & District Sport Complex as the Sicamous Eagles defeated the Castlegar Rebels 5-2.
The boxscore may have shown the Sicamous Eagles listed as the home team, but both teams were on unfamiliar ice as the two junior clubs made a rare visit to Nakusp. The regular-season duel pitted two of the top clubs in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) against each other. Sicamous entered the game leading the Okanagan-Shuswap Conference with 37 points while the Rebels sat second in the Kootenay Conference with 41.
After an uplifting version of O Canada by Nakusp Peewee assistant coach Kylie Carson, the Eagles quickly got to work as Brayden Taekema scored just 43 seconds into the game. Despite facing 20 shots from Castlegar in the first period alone, Sicamous goalie Jack Surgenor was more than up to the task, holding the Rebs at bay until the Eagles’ leading scorer, Brendan deVries, was able to score the first of his three goals on the night against Castlegar goalie Jordan Gluck, who would be replaced by Connor Beauchamp after the first frame.
Sicamous opened the second period with another quick goal as deVries scored 50 seconds into the frame. The game then settled into a stalemate despite Sicamous taking seven penalties to Castlegar’s three. Sicamous’ league-leading penalty kill, aided in great part by the fantastic play of Surgenor in goal, came to the rescue each time. Castlegar was finally able to break through at 11:44 on a beautiful goal by Peter Mingus, but the Eagles’ Kelyn Opel would respond less than two minutes later to make it 4-1. The Rebels’ Matt Read quickly came back with a goal of his own at 15:10, but it would not be enough as deVries would complete his hat trick with an empty-net goal at 19:21 to seal the game for Sicamous.
With 3G-1A, deVries was named first star, followed by Taekema (1G-3A) and Surgenor (44 saves). The victory extended the Eagles’ win streak to four games. Although the Shuswap squad was outshot 46-30 by a game Castlegar side, the outcome was never truly in doubt.
“We’re just a more skilled team,” said Eagles head coach Blair Robertson after the game. “The boys worked harder.”
Following the win, the entire Sicamous squad returned to the ice to thank the host crowd with a traditional stick salute. There would be little rest for the victors as they quickly darted onto the bus for a five and a half hour drive to Princeton to play the Okanagan Division-leading Posse Saturday night.
There was a black mark on the victory, however, as Sicamous forward Connor Fynn was ejected with just nine seconds left in the game for delivering a vicious cross-check to the back of the head of Rebels centre Bryan Lubin. Lubin remained on the ice for sometime afterward and had to be assisted to the dressing room. Per KIJHL rules, Fynn received an automatic two-game suspension. Rebels forward Jamie Vlanich was also given a game misconduct after the final whistle for an undisclosed incident and will sit out one game.
Spectators appeared to be evenly split between those cheering for Sicamous and for Castlegar. Attendance for Friday’s game was approximately 160, which falls right in line with the average attendance for Sicamous home games and just slightly below those of Castlegar home games. The previous Sicamous-Castlegar match this season, however, brought just 105 fans to the Castlegar Sports Complex.
As for what this game could mean regarding any talk of a potential Nakusp franchise, the jury remains out. A growing league with 20 teams, the KIJHL has been moving into other small, hockey-starved markets throughout the Southern Interior over the past five years such as Chase, Osoyoos, and Armstrong. Most recently, on Thursday a group from 100 Mile House purchased the attendance-challenged Penticton Lakers, giving the league its first-ever Cariboo-based franchise for 2013-14. A previous movement to bring a KIJHL franchise to Nakusp in the mid-1990s fizzled, as did an ill-fated dalliance with the controversial and short-lived WHA Junior Hockey League in 2008. A Nakusp franchise would have the smallest market size in the league.
Regardless of the future, hockey fans in our area were quite pleased to have junior hockey in town, even if just for one night.