After an extended layoff following their first-round sweep of Oceanside, the Campbell River Storm did not necessarily come out of the gate with their best effort Friday in their North Division finals series opener against arch-rival Comox.
But it was still good enough.
Josiah Friesen scored two goals and Dane Feeney parlayed a strong individual effort into a key, third-period score as the Storm snared a 4-1 victory over the Glacier Kings in the series opener Friday in Campbell River.
The following night, goalie Jesse Michel returned from a nearly two-month injury layoff to post a 3-0 shutout of the Glacier Kings in Game 2 in Comox.
Game 3 was played Tuesday night in Comox, after the Mirror went to press, and the puck drops tonight for Game 4 at 7:30 p.m. back at Rod Brind’Amour Arena.
A conflict with ice availability has created an unusual set-up for the series, with the “host” Storm getting just one home game to start the series before it moved down the road for two at the Comox Sports Centre. Typically, the higher-seeded team would get the first two playoff games on home ice.
“There’s no question you don’t want to be down 0-1 going into their barn for two games in a row,” Storm head coach Lee Stone said. “Any time you can take Game 1, that’s the idea with any playoff series. I didn’t think we did that great of a job, but we still came away with the win, and that’s a positive.”
Though the Northern Division champion Storm generally handled the Glacier Kings during their regular-season meetings, the teams were locked in a tight, 2-1 contest into the final minute of Friday’s opener before Feeney provided some breathing room.
Forechecking alone against a pair of Comox defenders in front of Glacier Kings goalie Zachary Straza, Feeney knocked the puck loose, then gathered it up and lifted a shot over Straza’s shoulder to make it 3-1 with just 55 seconds to play as the crowd erupted.
“(Comox captain) Derian Hamilton probably thought he had a bit more time, but I came in pretty fast and just got my stick in the way,” said Feeney. “I had a bit of time in front of the net with the goalie there, so I just made a quick move and put it upstairs. I was really happy to see it go in, and the crowd erupted, so that was fun.”
Just 15 seconds later, Reece Costain launched a shot at an empty net that bounded off the back wall and drifted into the crease. Friesen beat a defender to the puck to tap it home for his second goal of the game.
“Dane’s goal there at the end was a great job on the forecheck, turning pucks over,” said Stone. “Five-on-five, we’re a team that can score some goals. If we can get better on the power play, it will make a big difference in putting teams away earlier in the game.”
Friesen got the hosts on the board early, scoring from close range at 2:09 of the opening period off assists from Kobe Oishi and Feeney.
Midway through the period, the Storm made it 2-0 with more strong work around the net. Colin Blake unleashed a slap shot from the point that Jordan Rauser kept alive at the end line, feeding Tyler Welsh for a point-blank goal.
But if the fans thought this would be a cakewalk, they were mistaken.
The teams settled into a tightly played affair for the next 40 minutes, with neither team able to manage a goal until the Glacier Kings’ Dylan Sampson tipped a point shot from Hamilton past Storm netminder Riley Welyk to make it 2-1 at 10:18 of the third.
Storm 3, Glacier Kings 0
Michel’s return from a lower-body injury for his first game since mid-January was a rousing success and affiliate player Josh Coblenz notched his first playoff goal as the Storm took a 2-0 series lead Saturday.
All the scoring came in the second period, with the 16-year-old Coblenz potting the game-winner. Kobe Oishi’s point-blank rebound during a scrum at the net made it 2-0, and Gage Colpron capped a 5-on-3 power play in the final minute.