The Kelowna Chiefs open up their fourth season of play in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League this weekend, starting with a Friday night road game before hosting its home opener Saturday at the Rutland Arena.
Kelowna opens the KIJHL regular season in Princeton before its home opener on Saturday against Osoyoos in a rematch of last year’s playoff series, won by Osoyoos.
The Chiefs return 10 players from last year’s club that won the KIJHL’s Okanagan Division with a 35-15-1-1 record but lost in the second round of the playoffs.
Among the returning players is Jordan Salahor, a Kelowna native who has been with the Chiefs since day one in Kelowna. Last season the 5-foot-9 forward led the KIJHL in scoring and this year will lead what looks to be the most skilled team to hit the ice in Rutland.
“It’s a little different team for us than what we have had in our first three years,” said head coach Ken Andrusiak. “We’re built on skill and we don’t have too many bangers and crashers. We’re got 10 guys back from last year and we’re happy with how our recruiting went. Now we just have to play the games.”
Salahor will team with returning forward Nick Josephs, a Calgary native who had 76 points in 41 games last season, to form a potent one-two attack offensively. The Chiefs will also be bolstered by a veteran netminder as 20-year-old Tyler O’Donnell is back for his third season with the team.
With the Chiefs already having played three seasons in the KIJHL, Andrusiak says they are happy with the way the club has become part of the Rutland community.
“I think we’re very well established in Rutland especially,” he said. “Our fan base is expanding and Rutland has really embraced us from the sponsors to the fans to Rutland Secondary and UBC Okanagan.”
The Chiefs will again partner with the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club and take part in a variety of public events throughout the season.
Tickets are available for the team’s home opener at the door or by contacting the Chiefs office at 250-862-8020.