No matter what happens in Campbell River tonight (Dec. 22), the Victoria Cougars can say they climbed back into top spot in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League’s South Division by the Christmas break.
Thursday’s 5-2 win over Kerry Park in Esquimalt pushed the Cats’ unbeaten string to three games and left them two points ahead of slumping Westshore (16-14-1-1) , who lost their fourth in a row, 7-4 to the Saanich Braves in Colwood on Wednesday.
While the South is far closer a race than the North, where Nanaimo and Campbell River have built a sizable lead, rising to the top alone for the first time in weeks feels pretty good, said Cougars rookie Jaden McNulty.
“It’s a four-point night pretty much every game there is in the South. It’s tight, so every game counts,” said the forward, who had two assists against the Islanders.
Victoria (17-12-1-1) jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first period and ignited their previously dormant power play, scoring three times with the man advantage. Goals by Foster Martin, Shane Kime, Mateo Albinati and Darwin Lakoduk gave the Cougars what proved to be an insurmountable lead.
Keenan Eddy got Kerry Park (13-15-0-4) on the board in the second, then with about seven minutes left in the third Tanner Tiel cut the margin to two with the Islanders’ second power play goal. The visitors outplayed the Cougars for stretches in the second and third, but Victoria managed to limit Kerry Park’s scoring chances. Kyle Wade scored an empty netter to finish off the scoring at 19:40.
“We let off the pedal a little, but we were able to have a strong finish there,” McNulty said, noting his team lost the spark it had at the start. “We were just playing smarter hockey and going to the right areas, able to jump on loose pucks. We had a lot of intensity, but a lack of it in the second and third period.”
Kime led the way overall with a goal and three assists, while Martin and Lakoduk also had two-point nights.
With a third of the season yet to play and just seven points separating top to bottom in the South, anything can happen, but McNulty is confident.
“We’ve got great coaching and our systems are good, I think we can pull this out and get first place in the south,” he said. “It’s going to take work ethic, we’ve just got to bear down and we’ll get ‘er done.”
The Cougars return to action Thursday, Jan. 4 at home against the Wolves.
Four Cougars to play in VIJHL Prospects Game
Forwards Lakoduk, Albinati and Matthew Sparrow and defenceman Alexander Benger have been selected for Team South in the annual VIJHL Prospects Game, set for Jan. 7 in Campbell River.
The South versus North format game this season features up and coming players born between 1999 and 2001. Each of the nine teams nominated players, who were then reviewed by a selection committee.
The Prospects game will be broadcast live online as the free VIJHL game of the week at vijhl.hockeytv.com