The Esquimalt-based Victoria Cougars may be having an up and down season in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, but they’re still within striking distance of top spot in the South Division.
The perennial divisional powerhouse nudged their record over the .500 mark on Sunday with a 3-1 win in Parksville over the Oceanside Generals. The victory came at perhaps just the right time with Victoria (6-5-0-0) set for a rematch Wednesday (Oct. 25, 7 p.m.) against the South-leading Westshore Wolves (8-6-0-1) in Colwood.
The schedule has so far been kind to the Cats, leaving them with multiple games in hand against their divisional rivals, including four on the Wolves.
The Wolves skated off with a 6-3 win in the teams’ previous meeting in Esquimalt, a game Cougars head coach Suneil Karod notes was closer than the score indicated. He hopes his team builds on the win in Parksville and shows Westshore that they mean business.
“I thought Sunday was probably the best game we’ve had all year,” he said. “It’s definitely the closest we’ve had to a 60-minute effort. We competed and outworked them.”
While the Generals’ discipline problems in the second threatened to derail a solid effort by the Cougars, Karod said his players weathered that storm well, showed good passion and got back to work playing their own game.
The return of 19-year-old forward Tyler Vanuden, who assisted on all three goals Sunday, helped turn things around for Victoria. Traded by the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Brooks Bandits to a lower-level team in Ontario, he asked to come back to the Cougars, a request the team was happy to grant, Karod said.
With just 34 goals scored in 11 games, the team can use Vanuden’s offensive talents, not to mention his leadership, Karod added. “Tyler’s a guy who’s going to help the younger guys get to that next level.”
One of those young players, rookie Darwin Lakoduk, had a fast start to the season and leads the Cougars with 12 points in 11 games. He opened scoring in the final minute of the first period against the Generals with his team-leading seventh goal.
Lakoduk’s power play marker was the only one the Cougars scored in five opportunities, with Oceanside goalie Jacob Sweet coming up huge. He finished with 44 saves on 47 shots, while Patrick Ostermann stopped 25 shots at the other for Victoria.
Mateo Albinati, with his fourth of the year and Akila Sato-Gaudreau, with his third, sandwiched goals around one from the Gens’ Ethan Trampuh in the second, when the visitors outshot Oceanside 21-10.
Things got rough late in the period, starting with the locals’ Trae St. Pierre being assessed a pair of misconducts and a game misconduct at 18:56. Oceanside’s Isaac Finner took a charging minor with 10 seconds to go and in the ensuing skirmish, Victoria’s Liam Kinshella and Ryan Rae-Arthur dropped the gloves and were sent to an early exit.
The Cougars had another bright spot, killing off all seven shorthanded situations they faced on the night.
Victoria faces its toughest challenge of the season this week, playing the two division leaders on back-to-back nights. The Cougars host the 12-0-1-1 Nanaimo Buccaneers on Thursday starting at 7:15 p.m. at Archie Browning Sports Centre.