Peter Kung

The Victoria Cougars clinched a first round playoff bye by rallying for a 7-3 win over the Kerry Park Islanders on a cold yet snowless Saturday night.

Trailing 3-1 midway through the second period, the Cougars exploded for six unanswered goals.

Steve Axford led the way with a goal and three assists.

Entering Saturday’s game, all Victoria needed at the very least was an overtime loss or shootout loss to secure the bye. After Comox Valley lost to Kerry Park the night before, the Glacier Kings had to win out while the Cougars had to lose all their remaining games.

Mark Walton scored twice for Victoria (28-5-0-1) while Sam Rice, Brody Coulter, Colin Minardi, and Jake Nixon each chipped in with singles.

Adding three assists was Kurtis Kunz.

It was close for a while until the Islanders became unruly and began its parade to the penalty box.

The Cougars opened the scoring on the powerplay at 6:55 of the first period when Rice, who extended his point streak to eight games, banged home a Graham Zagrodney rebound past Matt Chester.

It was Zagrodney’s first game as a Cougar after the 18-year-old defenseman was acquired from the Swan Valley Stampeders of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

Then at 8:23, while playing shorthanded, Cole Schneider went end-to-end fighting off checks along the way before sliding the puck under Bryce Halverson.

Joel Gordon put Kerry Park (13-17-0-2) up by one with a powerplay goal at 4:18 of the middle frame. An unassisted goal from Alex Milligan then gave the Islanders a commanding 3-1 lead at 7:14.

So it seemed.

Walton cut into the lead at 10:52 after taking a pass from Minardi and from the corner, skated out with the puck and twinkled the twine. Watching the proceedings from the penalty box was Colton Burt who had 41 seconds remaining in his roughing penalty.

Slashing penalties to both Brandon Nicholson and Clay Carson at 19:06 put Victoria on a two man advantage. The Cougars used Chester as target practice but were unable to score before the buzzer sounded to end the period.

And with 18 seconds remaining in the penalties, Axford tied the game 48 seconds in after unleashing a howitzer from the point which beat Chester cleanly.

Coulter then scored the game winner from Kunz and Axford at 1:50 for his team leading 26th goal.

After the goal, Islanders’ head coach Brad Scafe called a timeout.

Kevin Woodyatt, who recorded three points and 76 penalty minutes in 25 games for the Victoria Grizzlies earlier in the season, put Victoria on an eight minute powerplay. The native of Scottsdale, Arizona received a two minute minor for checking-to-the-head, a two minute minor for cross-checking, a double minor for spearing, and a ten minute misconduct.

Those penalties all came at the 8:24 mark.

Minardi, at 10:20, made the Islanders pay for their indiscipline with his first goal. From the high slot, Minardi’s shot ricocheted off Chester high into the air before landing in behind the Kerry Park goalie.

Less than two minutes later, Brett Leidi was sent to the sin bin by referee Mike Christians.

Playing five-on-three, Walton got a couple of whacks at the puck before burying it for his second goal of the game and 13th of the season at 15:17.

Trailing 6-3 with just over two minutes left, Scafe pulled Chester for an extra attacker.

The plan backfired as Nixon, at 18:35, lit the lamp from his own zone. After the goal, Nicholson received a five minute major for slashing and a game misconduct.

Victoria outshot the Islanders 41-19 which included outshooting them 19-2 in a lopsided third period.

The powerplay got a workout as the Cougars went 5-for-13.

Kerry Park went 1-for-2 with the man advantage.

Not in the lineup for Victoria were defensemen Trevor Chown and Robert Zadra; both of whom were called up by the Grizzlies and Powell River Kings respectively.

Cole Peterson, who sits in sole possession of fifth place in league scoring with 48 points, was unavailable for the Islanders. The former Peninsula Panther forward was still nursing a lower body injury.

Next game for the Cougars is Saturday, January 21 against the Comox Valley Glacier Kings. Game time at the Comox Valley Sports Centre, located at 3001 Vanier Drive, is 7:30 p.m.