By Blake Moon
The Lake Cowichan Kraken and the Victoria Cougars clashed this past Thursday in what was the final meeting between these two clubs in the 2022-2023 VIJHL regular season. The finale of the epic saga between the Cougars and the Kraken took place at the Archie Brown Arena in Victoria where the Cougars have been stellar going 18-3 at home; contributing 36 of their total 65 points, and 18 wins to their record of 32-11-1. The Kraken on the other hand entered this game clinging to their playoff hopes as they sat only a single point behind the Port Alberni Bombers and just seven points behind the Kerry Park Islanders. On the road, the Kraken have been less than ideal, only contributing 6 wins to their 15-25-4 record. With their back against the wall, the Kraken were going to have to defy the odds if they wanted to punch a ticket to the big dance, whereas the Cougars looked to play spoiler in what turned out to be a dramatic game to say the least!
The first period saw the Lake Cowichan Kraken take the pressure to the Cougars for the better part of the games opening five minutes; including taking a stab at the games first powerplay, which ultimately generated no offense for the visiting Kraken. Despite the sustained pressure coming from the Kraken early on, it was the Cougars that tickled twine first with Ryan Comisky flipping a backhander over the blocker of Sean Walla off a rebound from Owens Evers initially generated by Ethan Roworth. The Cougars followed up breaking the scoreless tie with a wave of sustained offense of their own including their first crack at the man advantage. Much like their opponents first powerplay, they too had to settle for 2 minutes of sustained pressure but were unable to score an insurance marker midway through the games opening frame. The Kraken quickly found themselves in some more trouble as they took another penalty shortly after they worked tirelessly to kill their first infraction. However, the PK found a way to break through as an unfortunate bounce for the Cougars led to a Kraken 2 on 1 allowing Aidan Eddy to send an easy feed to Mithcell Billings who found the back of the net shooting far side on Ashton Billesburger knotting this game at 1 a piece. The Cougars did not wait too long to restore their lead as they charged into the Kraken zone the very next shift and completed a 2-1 of their own with Chase Barlow sending Jackson Estey ahead who fed Owen Evers for the easy tap in, giving the Cougars back their lead and making it a 2-1 hockey game. The Kraken ended the opening period by taking simultaneous 2 minute penalties putting the Cougars on a 5-3 powerplay. Sending both teams to the locker room with special teams on their mind heading into the middle frame.
The second period began with the Cougars sending their best offensive unit to the faceoff dot with plans on taking advantage of the 5-3 powerplay that carried over from the first period. Much to no one’s surprise, it did not take them very long to do so as less than a minute into the period the Cougars solved the Kraken’s strong PK to extend their lead to two goals and make it a 3-1 game thanks to a snipe from Jackson Estey assisted by Chase Barlow and Owen Evers. The Kraken refused to limp out of this game taking a lion’s share of the offensive zone time in the second period, as well as stepping up their physical game. The Kraken’s leading scorer and captain Suhkraj Narwal was even sprung on a breakaway at the 13 minute mark, but was shut down by Victoria’s netminder, Ashton Billesburger. The dangerous forecheck displayed by the Kraken eventually found a way to dilute the Cougars lead as Suhkraj Narwal grabbed a loose puck and directed it to Richard Bergman who’s heavy shot generated a juicy rebound which was finally shoveled into the yawning cage by Andrew White making it a 3-2 game late in the second period. Despite both teams doing all they could to better their chances heading into the third and deciding frame, neither team was able to pot another goal sending the players off the ice to prepare for what would be a grueling third period for both clubs.
Both teams came out buzzing to start the third period with both teams exchanging offensive chances, keeping the whistles silent for the opening 5 minutes of the period. But it was the Cougars who shattered the silence, potting their fourth goal of the game, reinstating their two goal lead thanks to a wicked shot from Chase Barlow after the zone was gained off of great passes from Ryan Comisky and Ethan Roworth. The Cougars kept their foot on the gas as only seconds after scoring their fourth goal, they went ahead and cashed their fifth goal of the game off a broken play that was eventually finished off by Jacob Batson, and assisted by Geoff Johnson and Jacob Pang. The Kraken found themselves in a big hole half way through the third period but refused to give up as they continued to lay the body and use their heavy forecheck to generate offensive chances. The Cougars’ however, were keen to add to their lead and ended up doing exactly that after steady zone time. Jackson Estey finally cleaned up a rebound following a flurry of saves from Kraken keeper Sean Walla. Walla stoned Isaac Phillips and Jacob Pang who eventually got credit for the assists on Estey’s goal to put the Cougars up 6-2 in the dwindling minutes of the third period. Both teams turned up the heat following the Cougar’s sixth goal resulting in a scrum and a Cougar’s power play, which they made no mistake on earning their 7th goal of the contest, scored by Ryder Johns, and assisted by Ethan Roworth, and Ben Coughlan. The Kraken continued to play fast and heavy and their hard work was eventually rewarded. The Kraken’s Landon Carson snatched up a Cougar’s give away in the neutral zone sending in Kyler Smith and Aidan Eddy in on a two on one that was finished off by Eddy thanks to a slick pass from Smith to make this a 7-3 game with only minutes to go in the third. Lake Cowichan pushed all the way until the final buzzer but could not sneak another tally past Billesburger allowing the Cougars to take another win at home with a final score of 7-3!
Although the final score was 7-3 in favor of the Cougars, Lake Cowichan had their fair share of scoring chances and offensive zone time, and overall played a good game. Despite the strong play from the Kraken, the Cougars were a team on a mission on Thursday night and did what they needed to do to win from the net out. The players of the game as chosen by the VIJHL were Charlie Williams for the Lake Cowichan Kraken, and Owen Evers for the Victoria Cougars. Both of these players stood out amongst their teammates and played terrific hockey on Thursday night. But a few other players that I think deserve a shout out as well were both goalies, Ashton Billesburger and Sean Walla, who actually both had a few acrobatic saves and both were huge when they needed to. A special nod to Walla who even though he took the loss, he was the reason this game was not decided by a wider margin. Moreover, Kraken captain Suhkraj Narwal was a force to be reckoned with for the Kraken, hitting some posts, laying the body and driving offense for his squad. And for the home town Cougars I liked what I saw from defenseman Ben Coghlan, who did his best Cale Makar impression tonight, dancing with the puck and finding ways to be a strong offensive force, while simultaneously being responsible in his own end.
The Cougars begin a two game series against the Saanich Predators on Sunday, February 19th to help bring their regular season to a close, and the Kraken continue their uphill battle to make the playoffs on Saturday, February 18th, against the Kerry Park Islanders. Make sure to stay locked on to VIJHL.com for more news and updates on your favourite VIJHL players and teams!