The Inaugeral PJHL/VIJHL AllStar Game An Instant Classic!

I had the great fortune of travelling over to Ladner on Sunday for the inaugural PJHL/VIJHL All-Star game, featuring the elite of the two leagues. The most popular phrase heading into the event was the same one I heard after the game, “They should have done this years ago!” They, whomever they might be, certainly got it right.

What a game! It was a 7-6 final in overtime for the men from the Mainland.

Despite getting outshot in the first, the PJ opened up a 2-0 lead on goals from Ryleigh Anderson (Richmond Sockeyes) and Mark Epshtein (Delta Ice Hawks). Former VIJHL’er, Noah Kelly (Richmond Sockeyes) earned an assist on the first goal, along with Nate Haaksma (North Vancouver Wolf Pack). Jacob Callas (North Vancouver Wolf Pack) and Alex Suprynowicz (North Vancouver Wolf Pack) assisted on the Epshtein marker.

At 17:51 of the first, Tanner Wort (Peninsula), in front of the net, pounced on a Dawson Heathcote (Oceanside) rebound and got the puck past Bradley Cooper (North Vancouver Wolf Pack). Josh Lingard (Peninsula) earned the assist, the first of his 4 points on the afternoon.

The PJ regained the two goal advantage early in the second. Sahvan Gill (Abbotsford Pilots) made no mistake from the high slot off a nice pass from Calder Newson (White Rock Whalers). Craig Schouten (Richmond Sockeyes) picked up the other assist.

Minutes later, two Saanich players combined to pull the VI to within one. Evan Abgrall from in front of the VIJHL net found Jake Wilhelm at centre ice and the Saanich Captain did the rest, coming down the right side and unleashing a low shot from 30 feet out that went 5 hole.

Braden Warburton (Langley Trappers) with a point blast on the power play at 6:28 of the second put the PJHL up 4-2. Assists went to Gill and Anderson.

The VI responded quickly. Kyle Jennings (Campbell River Storm) fed the puck to the centre line where it eventually found Lingard, who made a nice pass to Riley Braun (Peninsula). Braun found the top right corner.

This game was all about bounce-back. The PJHL replied with two goals 33 seconds apart and now led the game by three. Craig Schouten (Richmond Sockeyes), unassisted, and Anderson, with his second from Gill, made it 6-3.

If the VIJHL were going to make a game of this, they needed something before the end of the period. Cue the Panthers’ top line. At 15:44, Braun scored his second of the afternoon. Lingard going down the left side, came out of his zone, evaded capture outside the PJ blueline and slid the puck to Braun who directed it past the goalie. It was 6-4 heading into the second intermission.

The third period belonged to the VIJHL and Grandview Steelers’ goaltender Cale Dolan. Braun with his third of the afternoon struck early in the third (1:08). There were some great passes between him and Evan Easton (Victoria Cougars) that led to the one-timer and goal. Wort was also credited with an assist.

The VIJHL had many opportunities to even the game but every time it appeared they had that goal Dolan would snatch the chance away. Finally with 3:01 left on the clock, Lingard in the slot was fed by Wort for the equalizer; although not credited with an assist, Braun did a nice job getting the puck to Wort behind the goal.

Boy did the Islanders had chances in the final few minutes buoyed by a power play but Dolan was a wall.

The game went to overtime and it wasn’t long before Suprynowicz, on a long breakaway, buried the puck just under the crossbar 36 seconds in. Epshtein earned the assist stealing the puck along the boards in the PJ end and finding Suprynowicz.

The Game Stars were Riley Braun and Mark Epshtein.

The final from Delta was PJHL 7 VIJHL 6 with the shots on goal favouring the VI, 47-26.

That didn’t feel like a typical All-Star game; the young men on both sides of the puck made it clear from the early stages that they wanted to win. The game was very physical, quick, competitive and skilled, punctuated with impressive goaltending from Dolan, Cooper, James Brendeland (Oceanside) and Jacob Bennett (Comox Valley).

Thanks to the Pacific Junior Hockey League, the Delta Ice Hawks, Eastlink Community (for televising the game on Delta Cable), Sportswave Broadcasting, the Delta Optimist and Mark Booth (for the great photos).

I can’t wait until next year!