The Kelowna Chiefs Jr. B. Hockey Club will look to pick up where they left off when the puck drops to start the 2020/21 KIJHL season in November.
Before COVID-19 concerns forced the KIJHL to cancel the remainder of the playoffs in March, the Chiefs were tied 1-1 in a second-round series against the Princeton Posse that they were favoured by many to win. The Chiefs, led by leading scorers Kayson Gallant and Porter Dawson, were on a roll in the playoffs, dropping only a single game to Princeton after boasting a 33-12-3-2 record in the regular season and finishing first in the Bill Hausen Division.
”Our chances were really good of going all the way,” said Ken Law, head coach of the Kelowna Chiefs.
“We were really starting to gel and just getting our feet under us. We had our injured players back and the rug got pulled out from under us on our way to Princeton for game three.”
On Sept. 3, the league made the decision to delay the start of its season to Nov. 13 when it plans to run a 30-game campaign with three teams opting out and no fans in the stands. The Junior B league announced it would move forward with just 17 teams competing after the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, 100 Mile House Wranglers and Spokane Braves decided to take the season off.
Despite the changes, the Chiefs organization will conduct business as usual, using training camp to make final roster cuts and to ensure their players are in game-shape for the commencement of the regular season. Although, for many hockey players, finding suitable training centers wasn’t easy over the summer due to the pandemic.
So far, Law said he has been impressed with many of his player’s conditioning during camp, while others have come in quite noticeably out of shape and may be at risk of losing their roster spot.
”I’m impressed with our returning players because we give them programs to follow and a lot of the guys have come in incredible shape,” said Law.
”Then, there are other guys that you can tell did not put the work in, so, they could be looking for a new place to play. It’s as simple as that. Some of the young guys that have come into the camp, you can tell that they’re hungry for it and did everything they needed to do in their time off to get into the best shape they could.”
With 18 players returning this season, the Chiefs will look to play to their strengths of speed and skill this season with a strong defensive corps being the difference-maker. Law said every defenceman on the roster is over six-feet tall and mobile, a very intimidating factor for opponents.
“Our defensemen are very tenacious with their body contact,” said Law.
“Although we haven’t had a lot of body contact at camp, you can just tell that they’re are ready and more than willing to fight for any pucks that are loose in our own zone or in front of our net. I think we will more be as competitive or more competitive than last season.”
A new player to keep an eye out for this season is winger Hunter Johnson, a recruit from Swift Current, Saskatchewan. After playing with the Assiniboia-based Southern Rebels in the Prairie Junior Hockey League this past season, the 18-year-old will look to make an impact with his offensive ability complemented by his large frame.
Another player to watch is smooth-skating defenseman Jace Simmington-Lesanko who was recruited from St. Albert, Alberta over the summer.
“He’s six-foot-five and he moves like a five-foot-10 D-man,” said Law. He’s got good agility and a big-long-reach. We’re more than excited to have him playing.”
The Chiefs’ 2019/20 leading scorer Porter Dawson and the team’s top-scoring defenceman Ty Marchant are both eligible to return this season.