Where did that regular season go? It felt like it just started and we’re already heading to the playoffs.
The Campbell River Storm, for the second consecutive year, have captured the Andy Hebenton Award as regular season champions but that’s not the real prize. This week, 8 clubs begin their campaigns to win the Brent Patterson Memorial Trophy and represent the VIJHL as league champions at the Cyclone Taylor Cup, April 11-14, in Campbell River.
Here’s the match-ups:
Campbell River Storm #1 versus Peninsula Panthers #8
Starts on Tuesday, February 26 in Campbell River.
For the third straight season, these two clubs meet each other in the first round. The difference this year is that the Panthers are older and wiser. Expect big first round performances from Josh Lingard, Riley Braun, Tanner Wort and Matthew Sparrow up front as well as from Alexander Benger and Thomas Spink on the back-end.
The Storm are coming off a strong season with a very balanced line-up, one of the most balanced in years. Pearce Messer rejoins the club after weeks up in the BCHL and he joins such skilled players as Mike Dyck, Damon Porter, Darren Hards and Damon Kramer. One of the areas where the Storm have concentrated upon is defence; improving on great numbers from last season, they allowed just 1.92 goals against per game, the lowest in BC Junior B. That’s a credit to their defence and goaltending duo of Aaron de Kok and Jaden Little.
Victoria Cougars #2 versus Oceanside Generals #7
Starts on Thursday, February 28 in Nanaimo.
Heading down the stretch the Oceanside Generals were one of the hottest teams in the VIJHL beating the Cougars 2-1 in their last meeting. The Gens’ success starts at the back with the dyad of Jake Sweet and James Brendeland between the pipes. The addition of 20 years olds Matteo Giomo and Dayton Keith late in the season seemed to be the missing ingredients to the puzzle. As long as Oceanside sticks to Dan Lemmon hockey, which is physical but “whistle to whistle” they are very capable of an upset.”
In case anyone was wondering, the Cougars are back! They have scoring, strong physical defence and top notch goaltending in Owen Sikkes and Cam Stevenson. Head Coach Suneil Karod feels this will be a good matchup, “I expect it to be a hard fought series. Both teams like to play physical. Oceanside is well coached, play hard and play a structured system of hockey.” Coach Karod feels that the Cougars will need to use their speed and skill in the first round. With quality players like Booker Chacalias, Mateo Albinati, Tyler Vanuden, Marshall Brown and Cameron LeSergent, that’s a given.
Nanaimo Buccaneers #3 versus Westshore Wolves #6
Starts Tuesday, February 26 in Nanaimo.
The Wolves finished their regular season with an impressive win over the Storm. Along with Campbell River and Oceanside, they were one of the strongest clubs in February. Westshore possesses the necessary skill, with the likes Keegan Durrance, Parker Ellis, Connor Eddy and Chase O’Keefe, to surprise the Buccaneers.
Buc’s Head Coach Curtis Toneff feels this will be a skilled series, “Both teams boast wiley vets with something to prove in their careers still. Both teams also have some nice young talent looking to get noticed and further their careers. Mix those things in with good goaltending and you’ve got a good entertaining series.” Nanaimo players to watch will be 20 year olds, Captain Billy Walters and Darian Harris, along with Dawson Heathcote, Riley Gannon and Dylan Devers.
Kerry Park Islanders #4 versus Saanich Braves #5
Starts Tuesday, February 26 in Mill Bay.
This is the last kick at the can for 20 year olds Gavin Grewal, Dale McCabe and Kyle Mace, who came ever so close to a championship last year. Add to the graduating class some skilled young players in the form of Zach Guerra, Ryan Strange and Reid Lindsay and this series could be as interesting as you’d expect in a 4/5 matchup.
The Islanders have some firepower in veteran Tanner Tiel, Brandon McClintick (the Isles’ single season assist record holder – 48) and the VIJHL scoring champ Evan Easton. Teammates Isaac Leik, Riley Windsor, Romaeo D’Intinio and Rett Rook make Kerry Park a formidable opponent but as Head Coach Aaron Spotts points out these two teams know each other pretty well. “It’s the 3rd time in 3 years we’ve played Saanich in the first round. We’re playing an experienced team that made it to the finals last year. We’re excited for the opportunity and look forward to the challenge.”
There’s an upset in there somewhere.