There is something about playoff hockey that brings out the best in certain hockey players, those players that excel as the pressure and intensity ramps up with each passing game.
As the Kelowna Chiefs get set to open up the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League playoffs tonight at Rutland Arena against Summerland, Chiefs assistant captain Scott Renner already has his game face on and is ready for the playoff battle that lies ahead.
“After one or two games in a row you start to hate the other team and everyone gets a little chippy and a little dirty and that’s the type of hockey I like, that’s what I thrive on,” said Renner, one of four 20-year-old players on the Chiefs. “Last year we learned what we needed to do to get to the finals: A lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice so I know a lot of the guys know what they have to do to get there again.”
A West Kelowna Minor Hockey product, Renner played a season with the Chiefs in Chase before jumping into the BCHL for a year. But he returned to the Chiefs last season in Kelowna and this year will end his junior hockey career with the Chiefs.
“I’ve been doing my best not to think about it but this is my last year and personally I don’t want anything but the championship,” he said. “I’ll be leaving blood, sweat and tears out on the ice.”
Renner, along with fellow 20-year-olds Kyle Clerke, Braeden Hikichi and PJ Lawler will all be playing in their final games of junior hockey and will provide the Chiefs with plenty of experience. The team also features KIJHL leading scorer Jordan Salahor as well as good goaltending in the form of Tyley O’Donnell, who posted 20 wins, a goals against average of 2.60 and a save percentage of .917.
Renner, who has completed a year at Okanagan College’s carpentry program, says the Chiefs are a well-balanced unit heading into the second season.
“I think we have a lot more depth this year than last year,” he said, comparing last year’s team that made it to the KIJHL championship before losing. “Last year we had one maybe two lines but this year we have four lines that can score. We’re a lot more well rounded and everyone knows their job.”
The Chiefs (35-15-1-1) and Summerland (21-28-1-2) open their best of seven first round playoff series with games one and two on Friday and Saturday nights at Rutland Arena. Game five and seven will also be played in Kelowna if necessary. Chiefs coach Ken Andrusiak says his team is ready to go.
“It’s a long year so when you get down to the nitty-gritty it’s a relief to get started,” he said. “The regular season is just stage one. Stage two is a lot more interesting. We had a good week of practice and we are ready to go.”
Game 1 – Feb. 22, Rutland Arena 7 p.m.
Game 2 – Feb. 23, Rutland Arena, 7 p.m.
Game 3 – Feb. 25, Summerland, 7:30 p.m.
Game 4 – Feb. 26, Summerland, 730 p.m.
Game 5 – Feb. 27, Rutland Arena, 7 p.m.
Game 6 – March 2, Summerland 730 p.m.
Game 7 – March 3, Rutland Arena 7 p.m.