Island league’s wild card game a wild move

Island League's Wild Card Game Sunday at the Bear

Dave Burgess/VIJHL Peninsula Panthers goalie Stephen Heslop anticipates a tipped shot from Victoria Cougars forward David Marshall during their game on Feb. 7. The Cougars won that game 11-2. The two teams will meet for round one of the VIJHL playoffs.

Go Kerry Park Islanders, go.

That’s the sentiment to be shared when players from the Peninsula Panthers, Saanich Braves, Westshore Wolves and Victoria Cougars stand in audience to cheer the Islanders versus the Campbell River Storm in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League’s first ever Wild Card Game on Sunday.

Puck drop is 1:30 p.m. at Bear Mountain Arena followed by the VIJHL’s awards ceremony.

The Wild Card Game gives the South division’s fifth place team, the Islanders, the chance to steal the playoff spot owned by the North division’s fourth place team, the Storm. In the South, the Panthers and Cougars will face each other in one series, while the Wolves and Braves play in the other series. In the North, the Nanaimo Buccaneers await the Wild Card winner of the Islanders vs. Storm, while the Cyclone Taylor Cup hosting Comox Valley Glacier Kings will face the Oceanside Generals.

The reason the south teams will be cheering the Islanders is because the Wild Card Game will also decide home advantage in the VIJHL final.

If the Islanders win, whatever team represents the South division in the Brent Patterson Memorial final gets the extra home game in that series. And with just one regulation loss in 47 of the 48-game schedule, the defending champion Cougars are the favourite to be that team.

If Campbell River wins on Sunday, however, then there will be some deep breaths coming from the Cougars’ dressing room before the day is done. Starting the final series at home would seem like a just reward for running the table.

“I can say the (Cougars’) coaching staff and players are a lot more passionate about it than I am,” Cougars president and governor Gary Boyer said.

“The league is looking for innovative ways to structure the playoffs. At times the league had toyed with making our all (VIJHL All-Star Classic) the home ice decider for the final, just like Major League Baseball.

It looks obvious that the Cougars would be against the new feature coming in for this season, as they are head and shoulder above the rest of the league, Boyer said. But it’s something to be installed for the long term.

“In hind sight it’s not the best news for us. But take us out of the equation and the rest of the teams aren’t that far apart in the standings.”

In other words, Boyer is supporting it for now.

Perhaps a day will come again when the Cougars are not the most dominating junior hockey team in Canada, in respect to their league.

As for having rival players next to each other in the stands for Sunday’s game, the common goal should keep them all at bay. Let’s hope a win by the Storm doesn’t upset the precarious balance.

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