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Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

Some of the best young hockey talent on Vancouver Island was on display last Sunday as the VIJHL played it’s annual Prospects Game and All-Star Game at Pearkes Arena in Saanich.

January 15, 2012, Saanich, BC – What a great day of hockey!  Last Sunday the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) put it’s best talent on display at their annual All-Star Classic at Pearkes Arena in Saanich and judging from some of the action on the ice, it would not be surprising to see a few of these players make their mark down the road in higher levels of hockey, perhaps even the NHL.

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Former NHLer Geoff Courtnall was the Guest Speaker at the morning breakfast banquet.
The days festivities began with a morning breakfast banquet for the players and their families.  Hosted by KOOL-FM’s Robin Farrell, who was also a guest coach for the South Prospects later in the day, the banquet featured guest speaker and former NHLer Geoff Courtnall, who entertained all with his stories about his life in the NHL and in particular, some of the antics of the players during his days with the Vancouver Canucks.
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KOOL-FM’s Robin Farrell (left) and CTV’s Mira Laurence (right) were the celebrity guest coaches for the Prospects Game.
The Prospects then took to the ice for the 4-on-4 “young-guns” game.   The North, who were being guest coached by CTV2 Sports Anchor Mira Laurence and Nanaimo Clipper head coach Mike Van deKamp, quickly took a 3-0 lead ten minutes into the contest on the strength of goal by Comox’s Adam Robertson, Oceanside’s Taylor Grabowski and Comox’s Keegan Fletcher.


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Kerry Park’s Dane Ellison carries the puck up ice during Prospect Game action.
The South, after a tongue-lashing from guest coach Robin Farrell of KOOL-FM and Victoria Grizzlies Assistant Coach Vic Gervais, finally responded with two goals, one from Saanich’s own Shawn McBride, to pull within one, but the North would score again before the period was out to take a 4-2 lead into the break.
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Peninsula Panther Wade Bartlett moves the puck up ice for the South team during Prospect Game action.
In the second half of the two-period game, Comox’s Jed Martin would bump the North’s lead to 5-2 seven minutes into the frame but the South would respond just two minutes later to make it 5-3.  The teams would exchange goals in the last half of the period and the North would emerge with a 6-4 win on the scoresheet.
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Saanich’s Shawn McBride would have a goal for the South in their 6-4 loss to the North in the Prospects Game.
One surprise in the game was a fight that occurred in the second half of the game between the South’s Liam Sproule of Saanich and the North’s Dixon Wing of Campbell River.  Sproule, who had an assist in the game, appeared to get the better of Wing in the dust-up and following the game, was awarded the South’s MVP award for his efforts.
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Saanich’s Connor Krupa would also tally a goal for the South in their losing effort.
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Saanich’s Liam Sproule (facing camera) would get the upper hand on Campbell River’s Dixon Wing in a rare scuffle that broke out during the Prospects Game.
For the North, Oceanside’s Taylor Grabowski, with a goal and an assist on the day, was awarded the MVP.
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Oceanside’s Taylor Grabowski is presented with the North MVP award for his goal and assist by Guest Coach Mira Laurence.
The All-Stars then took to the ice prior to their game to compete in a fastest skater competition.  When the dust had settled and various elimination rounds were completed, the final came down to a head-to-head competition between Peninsula Panther teammates Trevor Yee and Dane Gibson for the title, with Yee prevailing.
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Peninsula’s Trevor Yee would take home the fastest skater award from the Skills Competition.
The highlight of the day was the All-Star Classic and given the respective team’s line-ups, with the South featuring six of the top-ten scorers in the league, one might be forgiven if they thought this would be an easy win for the South.
Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard conducts the opening face-off duties with North Captain Jackson Garrett (left) and South Captain Steve Axford.
The North were clearly not buying in to this however and outplayed the South for much of the first period, and led 2-1 at the break thanks to goals from Campbell River’s Alex Benjestorf and Oceanside’s Luciano Sommerville.  Kerry Park’s Cole Thomson responded for the South.
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The South’s Steve Axford tries to get around the check of the North’s Brian Rideout during All-Star game action.
In the second, the North would again double up on the South as Campbell River’s Alex Gruppe and Oceanside’s Connor Enright would score to make it 4-1 before the South’s Sam Rice (of the Cougars) would cut the lead in half before the period was out.
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Victoria’s Sam Rice would notch a pair of goals for the South in their 7-6 shoot-out win over the North.
In the third period the fans got their money’s worth as the South would begin to find their scoring touch.  The South’s Steve Axford made it 4-3 just three minutes into the frame, however the North would respond as Comox’s Jackson Garrett would restore the two goal lead with 14:58 remaining.
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The North’s Alex Benjestorf from the Campbell River Storm fights for the puck with the South’s Trevor Yee of the Peninsula Panthers.
The teams would exchange quick goals just two minutes later as Victoria’s Sam Rice would score his second for the South to make it 5-4, only to see Oceanside’s Travis Briggs respond just 11 seconds later to put the North up 6-4.
The South would continue to pressure the North and they would eventually tie things up with a pair of goals at the mid-point of the period.  Victoria’s Trevor Chown would score with 11:12 remaining to make it 6-5 and then Saanich’s Sam Johnston would get the tying goal just 40 seconds later to knot the score at 6-6.
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The South’s Rhys Williams skates ahead of pressure from the North’s Jackson Garrett during All-Star game action.
The teams traded exciting chances after that to no avail and the game went to over-time, where again nothing was settled.  This sent the game to a shoot-out and in a change from the standard three-man shoot-out format, to maximize the entertainment value for the fans, a ten-shooter format was utilized.
After some exciting moves and saves, it was the South goaltenders, Victoria’s Evan Roch and Saanich’s Tanner McGaw who saved the day, allowing only one North shoot-out goal in seven shots and the South took the shoot-out 4 goals to 1, and emerged then with a 7-6 victory in the game.
At the completion of the game, the MVP awards were given to Campbell River’s Alex Gruppe for the North and to Kerry Park’s Cole Thomson for the South.
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Campbell River’s Alex Gruppe (left) and Kerry Park’s Cole Thomson (right) are presented with their game MVP awards by Saanich Brave owners Ed Geric (left-centre) and Norm Kelly (right-centre).