The Border Bruins dropped two games last week to drop below .500 at approximately the midway mark of the season. On Sunday, the Bruins played a home game in Midway and lost to a strong Kelowna squad 7-3.
The game in Midway at the Boundary Expo Rec Centre was the first of three the Bruins will play there. The other times will be Jan. 10 against Princeton and Jan. 22 versus Osoyoos.
“We outplayed them for 55 minutes and had a meltdown in the last five,” said Bruins head coach Kevin Flather. “What I saw was a lot of guys quitting on Kai (goalie McDonald); you can’t have that kind of effort.”
Flather had to watch the game from the stands in Midway after being suspended. The suspension came about because McDonald skated in the pregame warm-up in an earlier game while being suspended.
“He skated through warm-up while he was suspended while we awaited an emergency back-up status from the league,” said Flather.
Matt Zanec stepped in behind the bench to fill in once again.
Kelowna hit the scoreboard first with Jordan Salahor scoring at the 4:44 mark of the first period.
Michael Rand tied the game up three minutes into the second, assisted by Tucker Brown and Reid Robertson.
Jagger Bowles put the Chiefs up 2-1 with a power play marker at 15:22 of the second.
The Bruins got back to back goals to go up 3-2 heading into the second period break. Scoring were Connor Gross (assisted by Dakota Little and Rand) and Lincoln Lane (assisted by Ravinder Shokar and Brown).
Unfortunately, the third period was all Kelowna as they rattled offensive straight goals including a pair each from Nick Josephs, the KIJHL’s leading scorer with 65 points, and Nicholas Kovacik.
“Kelowna played well,” said Flather. “Their top line picked us apart. Our guys have to know who they’re playing against.”
Flather was appreciative of the Midway crowd and said it was a great atmosphere for a game.
One of the benefits of being suspended and watching the game from the stands for Flather was that it allowed him to meet some of the fans.
“It was great,” he said. “I’m looking forward to returning there. It was a good crowd for a Sunday afternoon game.”
In net for the Bears was Kai McDonald, who stopped 30 of 37 Chief shots.
GF actually outshot their opponents from the Central Okanagan 43-37, but could only get three past Kelowna netminder Tyler O’Donnell.
The Bruins remain in fourth place in the Neil Murdoch division, only four points above Spokane.
On Tuesday, Nov. 26, GF fell 4-2 to the surging Beaver Valley Nitehawks on the road. “That was the end of five games in seven days—we were on cinder block legs,” said Flather.
Flather is hoping the acquisition of AP (associate player) Spencer Kozlowski will shore up the goalie position.
With starting goaltender Dominick Stadnyk expected to be sidelined until January with a shoulder injury, the addition of Kozlowski should help ease the workload of McDonald. “He’ll be a temporary fill until Stadnyk returns,” said Flather.
Next up, the Border Bears host the Braves on Saturday at the Grand Forks Arena. On Sunday, the Bruins return to Fruitvale to once again take on the second place Nitehawks.
“In practice yesterday, the boys were introduced to junior hockey,” said Flather, intimating that there was a great deal of conditioning at practice. “We taught them about work ethic. They skated the entire practice. (It was) basically a no puck practice. We were sending a message that you don’t quit when things don’t go your way.”
With two inter-division games, Flather stresses the importance of this upcoming weekend.
“It’s another huge four point game (versus Spokane),” he said. “Those are must win games at all cost. I would consider our Spokane games play-off games. That’s how important they are. We have to start beating our division teams, because it’s controlling our own destiny. We’ll ensure the people we are trying to catch and stay ahead up aren’t getting two points.”
Grand Forks remains in the fourth and final play-off spot in the Neil Murdoch division with a 10-12-2-1 record for 23 points in 25 games.
Spokane is four points behind with an 8-17-0-3 record for 19 points in 28 games.