By Peter Kung
(ISN) – The Victoria Cougars won their 15th consecutive game by beating the Campbell River Storm 6-1 on a drizzly Thursday night.
Steve Axford continued his torrid pace, leading Victoria with four assists. The winger extended his scoring streak to eight games and now has amassed a whopping 22 points during that stretch.
Prior to the opening faceoff, Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League President Greg Batters was on hand to present the Andy Hebenton Trophy which is awarded to the regular season champion. Cougars’ captain Brody Coulter, along with alternate captains’ Chris Bannister, Josh Wyatt, and Axford, gladly accepted the hardware from Batters.
Not letting the pregame festivities faze them, the Storm fired eleven first period shots towards Evan Roch and took an early one goal lead.
Jamie Severs, a 15-year-old call-up from the Campbell River Tyees, opened the scoring at 11:05 for his first ever goal.
Victoria (35-5-0-1), which was playing its final home game of the regular season, made it 1-1 after Sam Rice teamed up with Axford and Wyatt 20 seconds later.
Streaking down the left side and then cutting towards the net, Wyatt waited until goalie Andy Salazar was sprawled out on his belly before sliding the puck past him. The goal, which was scored at 16:01, was assisted by Axford and Graham Zagrodney.
Steve Axford, seen here earlier in the season against Saanich, continued his torrid scoring pace with 4 assists Thursday evening (ISN File Photo by Christian J. Stewart)
Penalties to Wyatt Trumbley and Max Crawford at 17:40 and 18:19 respectively put the Cougars on a two-man advantage. Possessing the league’s top powerplay, Connor Stephens slid a pass through the crease to Bannister who banged it home with 33.8 seconds left in the period.
The Cougars finished 1-for-8 with the man advantage.
It remained 3-1 until the 5:21 mark of the middle frame when a goal by Wade Johnson gave Victoria a three goal lead. Ryan Chan and Jacob Nixon were credited with the assists.
A penalty shot was awarded to Wyatt after he was hauled down from behind by Joel Wheeldon. But before he could make his move, Wyatt had the puck poke checked off his stick at the last possible second by Salazar.
However, with 1.8 seconds remaining before the second intermission, Nathan Chen-Mack scored from Rice and Axford.
Roch, who was named the game’s first star, made one spectacular save after another. With twelve minutes remaining in the game, Roch made a stick save off Campbell River’s leading scorer Tyson Rennie. Then six minutes later, Dane Feeney was robbed of a sure goal.
The Cougars capped off the scoring with 55.4 seconds left when Bannister deflected in a Stephens pass.
Treading in unchartered waters, Victoria was outshot for only the second time this season, 35-28.
Salazar, who stopped 20 shots, was replaced by Nick Babich at the start of the third period.
The VIJHL scoring race is still murky as ever. Axford holds a slim two point lead over Ty Jones of Saanich who recorded a pair of assists in his game against the Peninsula Panthers.
Jones does have a game in hand though.
The Cougars will have a first round playoff bye whereas Campbell River (15-25-0-1) will face the Comox Valley Glacier Kings, Oceanside Generals, or Saanich in a best-of-seven series.
Next game for Victoria is Saturday, February 18 against the Oceanside Generals. Game time at Oceanside Place, located at 830 West Island Highway, is 7:30 p.m.