When Ken Andrusiak and Grant Sheridan brought junior B hockey to the Okanagan’s largest city, they figured they were embarking on a three-year plan.
But it took just two seasons for the Kelowna Chiefs to reach to Kootenay International Junior Hockey League final.
The Chiefs and Beaver Valley Nitehawks will face off Wednesday night in Fruitvale to open the best-of-seven championship series.
The Chiefs, who were relocated from Chase for the start of the 2010-11 season, finished fourth in the Okanagan Division but have rolled through this year’s playoffs with three straight series wins. Their 12-4-0 overall post-season record is the KIJHL’s best.
Kelowna took the last step to the final with a five-game series win over Sicamous in the Okanagan/Shuswap Conference championship, which ended with Brent Lashuk’s overtime goal Friday night at Rutland Arena.
In the Nitehawks, the Chiefs meet the KIJHL’s No. 1 team from the regular season as they posted a 42-7-0-3 record.
Kelowna was responsible for one of those losses, beating Beaver Valley 6-5 on Sept. 24.
The Nitehawks responded in January with a 4-0 win over the Chiefs in the only other meeting between the clubs this season.
“They have good forwards, they’re very good on the rush, and they can beat you with speed,” Andrusiak, the Chiefs’ head said of Beaver Valley. “We’re going to need to play structured and try avoid getting into a run-and-gun game with them.
“With the right preparation you can beat anybody, so we’re looking to be well prepared. The guys are excited to play them.”
Game 2 will be played Thursday in Fruitvale, with Games 3 and 4 in Kelowna on Saturday and Sunday nights at Rutland Arena.
For Andrusiak and his assistant—and managing partner—Grant Sheridan, reaching the KIJHL final in just the Chiefs’ second season in Kelowna is a positive step for the organization.
“It’s very satisfying, compared to where we came from last year,” said Andrusiak. “Our first year there were a lot of growing pains, just like any new business. This year, we started to get the hang of it, on and off the ice.
“We have good players, they’ve done a good job this year. We just kept teaching and they got better and better. These extra games in the playoffs have been a real bonus for the learning part of it.”