It’s playoff time in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League and the Campbell River Storm is set to open the post season with a home game tonight at 7:30 p.m. against the Oceanside Generals.
The Oceanside Generals beat the Peninsula Panthers 5-2 in the sudden death wild card game played on Monday night. So the Storm meet the Generals in the best of seven series tonight in Campbell River.
“The key for us in round one is to play our game,” says Storm head coach Lee Stone, “We want to work on playing some really good defensive hockey and having structure to our game. If we do those things I think we should be successful, no matter who we play.”
Campbell River wrapped up the regular season on the weekend with a split in their final two games. Friday night before a sellout crowd at Rod Brind’Amour Arena the locals were edged 2-1 in overtime by the Victoria Cougars. With the victory the Cougars secured first place in the overall VIJHL standings. The Storm took out their frustrations the following night by blasting the Comox Valley Glacier Kings 11-1 in Courtenay.
Like many in attendance on Friday, Stone feels if the Storm and Cougars meet again the VIJHL finals it will be a series to remember.
“If we happen to get to the finals against them in a seven game series, it will be an absolute war,” he says, “They’re smart, they know how to win and we saw that on Friday night. It was a real good opportunity to us to see the kind of things they are willing to do to win – and maybe we weren’t. That was kind of a wake-up call heading into the playoffs.”
Victoria’s Sam McMullen demonstrated why he is the league’s premier offensive threat, scoring a beautiful power play goal at 12:22 of the second period. The elusive centreman deftly redirected a pass by Wade Johnson past Storm goalie Riley Welyk for the game’s first goal.
However, the Storm wasted little time in evening the score. Just over two minutes later, Cougars goaltender Grant Payne got caught out of his net. Dane Feeney fed the loose puck to Colin Blake, who lifted a backhander into the yawning cage for his 30th goal of the season.
That was all the scoring until 4:27 of overtime when McMullen struck again, taking advantage of a mad scramble in front of the Campbell River net to poke home the game winner while lying on the ice.
“That was the best game Victoria has played against us this season,” said Stone, “They did great job of taking away our speed, holding us up at the blue line, and playing a gritty style of playoff-style hockey. We have to get better at dealing with that.”
The two teams each registered 24 shots on goal. Victoria’s power play finished 1 for 3, while the Storm went scoreless in four opportunities.
Saturday’s blow-out over Comox Valley turned out to be a special night for Campbell River forward Tyler Welsh. The dynamic rookie recorded four assists, giving him the new team record for most helpers in one season with 58.
“It’s a real honour to have that record,” said the 17-year-old Whistler native, “I played in the game last year when Brendan deVries set the record and he’s an incredible player.”
Trent Johnson, Connor Logan, Gage Colpron, and Kobe Oishi each tallied twice for the winners. Campbell River led 3-0 after the The Storm finished the regular season with a record of 39-4-1-4, their best since the 2001-02 campaign.