We interrupt your Osoyoos spring to bring you the KIJHL Junior B hockey playoffs.
And interrupt is the right word; want to tag along as the Osoyoos Coyotes go for their second league championship in six years and you could spend 28 out of the next 35 evenings at the rink — up to half of them on the road.
Sixteen teams will come out of the gate starting tonight; by March 25 — just 32 days from now and a combined 14 best-of-seven series — two will be left.
And even then things are just getting warmed up. The Cyclone Taylor Cup awaits the KIJHL victor and beyond that the Keystone Cup for all the Western Canadian marbles.
“My first year here, when we won the league, it was a struggle,” says Ken Law. “By the time we were done and heading to the Cyclone Taylor, we were beat up and banged up.”
The grueling test of Junior B grit and determination really starts to tell when two teams get into the back end of a series. After playing a somewhat pedestrian two games in two nights in the same rink, the fun really begins.
“It’s a grind, especially when you get into the final three games and have to play them back to back.,” says Law, giving his head a shake.
“Basically, the other team would play here and we would have to follow them up that night to stay over to play the next day at their place and then they would do the same thing coming back.”
He starts counting games on his fingers, looking at the week to come.
“We could play nine games in 10 nights,” he says.
The KIJHL has won 19 of 48 Cyclone Cup championships, not bad considering the two other participating leagues — the Pacific Junior Hockey League and Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League — play abbreviated 44- and 48-game seasons respectively and generally are better rested come tournament time.
“We let the Cyclone Taylor and Keystone dictate our pace,” says Law, explaining the KIJHL has to wrap up its playoffs before the B.C. championships begin in early April.
Law says his team is ready for the playoff run. He credits returning players for a big part of that preparation.
“They’re all really positive right now and just gelling even more as we get going forward here,” he said.
“The guys that have been through the war before talked about it and told the younger guys what to expect — the grind, the refereeing changes, making sure we respond to anything other teams throw at us.”
The puck drops on the post-season grind this evening at 7:30 with the Coyotes hosting the North Okanagan Knights. Game Two is tomorrow evening at the same time. Playoff tickets will be on sale at the Coyotes Box Office from 3:30 p.m. until face-off each game day.