Three Kerry Park Islanders players and a family member were injured in a single-car accident after the team’s Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League game on Saturday night, serving as a reminder that there are things bigger than hockey.
The car containing the players lost traction on the highway as they returned home to Victoria. Everyone involved was treated and released, but it was a shocking moment for the entire club.
“They’re back in their own beds, but they were shaken up for sure,” Troy Newans, head coach of the Mill Bay-based team confirmed on Monday.
It wasn’t lost on anyone that Saturday’s game was the Isles’ annual Nick Collins Game, honouring a Kerry Park Minor Hockey goalie and volunteer who died when he was struck by a car on a November night 14 years ago.
“That was one of those things we discussed, that there was somebody definitely watching out for our players,” Newans said. “That car accident could have been a lot worse. Nick was watching out for our guys.”
Although the Islanders organization has been through a lot of changes in the last 14 years — in players, coaches and ownership — the connection with the Collins family remains strong. Veteran players who have participated in the memorial game in previous years reminded their current teammates, and Kerry Park alumni returned to show their support for the Collins family on Saturday.
“I think the whole community and organization will keep supporting the Nick Collins Memorial Trust Fund and the Collins family as long as we are playing hockey in that rink,” Newans said.
Inspired by the Collins family, the Isles defeated the Victoria Cougars 4-1 on Saturday night. It was only the fourth loss for the Cougars in 24 games this season, two of which the Isles have been responsible for.
“That was a really emotional game for the players,” Newans commented. “They were focused on coming out of the game with a win. In my eyes as a coach, they played their best game of the year.”
The Cougars opened the scoring at 1:26 of the first period, but Mateo Sjoberg tied it at 5:51, and Brady Estabrook put the Isles in front at 17:37. Cole Sloboda and Marko Tokic scored in the second and third periods, respectively. Sloboda finished the game with a goal and an assist, and Carson Strom had three helpers. Dryden DeMelo finished with 27 saves as the Isles outshot the Cougars 29-28.
The night before, the Isles lost 5-1 to the Peninsula Panthers at the Panorama Rec Centre. Kerry Park had momentum early, but couldn’t capitalize.
“I think the shots were 10-0 for us early on,” Newans said. “But before we knew it, it was 3-0 for them.”
The Isles got their only goal from captain Matt Baird on a third-period powerplay. Eric Young made 28 saves as the Isles outshot the Panthers 38-33.
Including a 5-4 defeat six days earlier, that was back-to-back losses for the Isles against a team they are chasing in the South Division standings.
“It was disappointing to lose four points, especially to them,” Newans said.
The Isles were scheduled to play host to the Comox Valley Glacier Kings last Sunday, but that game was postponed following the accident on Saturday night. Newans expressed his gratitude to Comox coach Mike Nesbitt and to the VIJHL for rescheduling the game on short notice, and said how much he appreciated the first responders and bystanders who helped the injured players after the accident. The entire league has been providing encouragement for the team.
“Over the last couple of days, my phone has been ringing off the hook with messages of support from other coaches and GMs around the league, and even random parents around the league,” Newans said. “And I’m sure [owner Brandon Cox]’s phone has as well.”
The Isles are slated to visit the Saanich Predators this Friday and the Westshore Wolves on Sunday, but the partial closure of the Malahat might force a schedule change. Never mind that hockey isn’t at the forefront of their minds this week.
“We’ll make sure everybody is happy and healthy and in the right mindset to prepare for the games,” Newans said. “It’s important to remember it is just a hockey game and that it’s important that our family and friends are happy, healthy and safe.”