CAMPBELL RIVER, B.C. – Just over three weeks ago, the Campbell River Storm were teetering on the brink of elimination in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League playoffs.
A 4-3 loss to the Peninsula Panthers on March 4 dug the Storm in a 3-1 series hole, and one loss away from being ousted in the first round.
But a Storm surge was brewing, and since that loss, the defending VIJHL playoff champions have reeled off eight straight wins, taking out the Panthers and Saanich Braves along the way.
Now the Storm once again find themselves in the VIJHL championship final, where they grabbed a 1-0 series lead against the Victoria Cougars, following last night’s 4-0 win at Rod Brind’Amour Arena.
Pearce Messer, Kyle Jennings, Owen Christensen, and Darren Hards scored for the Storm, who tallied a trio of second period goals to put the game away.
Aaron de Kok posted the shutout by turning away all 23 shots he faced.
Looking ahead, Storm head coach Mike Wilson isn’t taking anything for granted.
Prior to game one, Wilson talked about what the Cougars brought to the table.
“Victoria’s a real good team,” Wilson said, of a Victoria squad that rose to the top of the South Division with a 28-12-7-1 regular season record.
“Their depth is one of the best in the league and they are a team that is going to come at us aggressively. Their forecheck is quick. We’re going to have to play with their speed, we’re going to try to keep the puck in their zone as much as possible and really use our speed and skill in their zone.”
Whatever happens in the final, both teams are bound for the Cyclone Taylor Cup provincial junior B championship, hosted by the Storm from April 11 to 14.
Regardless of how they fared in the playoffs, the Storm will qualify for the Cyclone Taylor tourney, because they are the host team.
And while earning their way to the provincials makes it all the more satisfying, Wilson said his players are driven to defend their VIJHL playoff title.
“At the end of the day, the VIJHL championship is a really big deal to these guys and a really big deal to this program,” Wilson said. “That’s obviously our mindset, here, is to go and win the VIJHL (playoffs). You put in 48 games in the regular season and you put in a playoff run, so this is what it really all comes down to for the season. And then the Cyclone Taylor is a really nice cherry on top and that’s when you get to compete with the best of the best.”
ICE CHIPS: The series shifts back to Victoria for game two, and then the teams head north again to Campbell River for game three on Friday night.
Game time for the March 29 match-up at Rod Brind’Amour Arena is 7:30 p.m.