Austin Buzzell and Jessie Gordichuk are the keys to a successful Kootenay road trip for the Penticton Lakers.
The netminding duo will be counted on to rescue a short bench starting Friday against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, then the Nelson Leafs and Castlegar Rebels in Kootenay International Junior Hockey League action.
Lakers coach Robert Dirk will be dressing 15 players because of injuries and suspensions and may have a player getting called up to junior A. JR Krolik and Steven Killy aren’t eligible to play as they were suspended for three games. Meanwhile Jeff Coates, Trevor Berisoff and Mason Chew are hurt.
“It’s going to be a very tough weekend,” said Dirk. “If we can get two, three or four points that would be great. I’m looking at this weekend as more for character building than wins and losses.”
The Nitehawks (17-5-0), who recently doubled up the Lakers 6-3 in the South Okanagan Events Centre on Remembrance Day were described by Dirk as a strong veteran team that skates well. Dirk’s last memory of the Leafs isn’t a fond one.
“Last time they were here they spanked us 4-0,” he said. “Very offensive hockey club. We didn’t play very well. Probably played two bad hockey games all year and one was against Nelson (14-8-0-2). Hopefully we can redeem ourselves and repay the favour.”
Against the Rebels (14-6-0-2) on Nov. 12, Gordichuk stopped 28 shots in a 2-0 win. Dirk said the Rebels have one good offensive line (Anthony DeLong, 31 points; Stuart Walton, 29 points; and Tyler Robinson 20 points) and they are good defensively. The Rebels have the lowest goals against average of 2.45, behind Fernie’s 2.29 and Kimberley’s 2.35 in the KIJHL.
As for the goaltending, Buzzell will start the trip since Gordichuk played the last game. Buzzell has the better numbers with seven wins compared to five, a 2.71 goals against average compared to 3.05 and a slightly better save percentage at .909 to Gordichuk’s .899.
“It’s been good all year, but it’s probably going to have to be exceptional on the weekend,” said Dirk. “The biggest thing I saw Sunday against Castlegar was our commitment from all players playing a defensive game — sacrificing, blocking shots, getting pucks out, getting pucks in. Being a very unselfish hockey club.”