Steam possess size and skill, pushing for top of KIJHL

The Summerland Steam are hoping for big success as the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League begins its 50th season

MICHAEL MACLEAN (44) has returned for a second season with the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s Summerland Steam. The Steam have high hopes for MacLean this season.

MICHAEL MACLEAN (44) has returned for a second season with the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s Summerland Steam. The Steam have high hopes for MacLean this season.

The Summerland Steam, defending Okanagan Division champs, want to remain at the top.

As the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s 50th season starts Friday, the Steam will be shooting for the top with 14 returning players.

“I think we’re a team that should compete for the top,” said Steam coach John DePourcq, who is entering his fifth season and will be joined by new assistant coaches Olli Dickson, Carter Rigby and Jordan McCallum. “That’s the goal, that’s what we have all talked about. Going as far as we did last year (in the KIJHL final), there should be a lot more confidence with each guy in there.”

The Steam open the season against the KIJHL and Keystone Cup Western Canadian junior B champion 100 Mile House Wranglers Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Summerland Arena. DePourcq will ice a team surrounding veterans with skilled young players. Steam rookies listed on the KIJHL website are Kelowna’s Matthew Alcorn and Jeremy Hite, Penticton’s Morey Babakaiff and Devon, Alta., product Everett Scherger.

“It’s very exciting,” said DePourcq. “We have a very good solid foundation. Having them paired up with some of our returning players could be a lot of fun. We have great potential to have a really good season.

Babakaiff impressed the Steam with a strong camp. He will get a chance to play in all situations as DePourcq believes in utilizing players that way. One thing DePourcq stressed is the importance for the 16-year-old to understand the defensive side of the game. Doing that will enable the five-foot-11, 160-pound forward to chip in offensively.

“We have a great combination of size and skill,” continued DePourcq. “We have some offensive guys that can put up some good numbers, but then if things need to get a little physical, we have enough meat there to make sure we can play all styles of game.”

Babakaiff will be joined by the return of local product, Michael MacLean, who was released by the Langley Rivermen of the BCHL. In 46 games as a rookie with the Steam, MacLean collected four goals and six points. DePourcq is pleased to get the Penticton product, who worked hard over the summer, back.

“I think he’s going to have an excellent season,” he said of the six-foot-six, 245 pound forward.

DePourcq wants MacLean to play a relaxed game and said he plans on trying him at centre.

“He’s got one heck of a shot. He’s a guy that can have more foot speed,” he said. “When you play to your size and finish checks, that is going to give more time and space, leads to more output offensively.”