By Peter Kung, Photos by Richard Hyde
(ISN) – The Victoria Cougars are going back to the Cyclone Taylor Cup. Mark Walton scored twice as Victoria claimed its fourth Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League title with a 5-2 come from behind win over the Peninsula Panthers.
Also chipping in with a pair of assists was Nathan Chen-Mack.
The Cougars, who won the best-of-seven series in four games, will now join the host Abbotsford Pilots, Delta Ice Hawks, and KIJHL champion (Beaver Valley Nitehawks or Kelowna Chiefs) in the provincial championships beginning April 12.
After trailing 2-1 after one period, Victoria erupted for three second period goals before adding another with seven minutes remaining in regulation.
The Panthers got on the board first when Cole Glover, at 10:46, jammed the puck behind Bryce Halverson after taking a stretch pass from Josh Bloomenthal.
The Cougar’s Steve Axford (left), Brody Coulter (centre) and Josh Wyatt (right) pose with the Championship banner (Photo by Richard Hyde).
Watching the proceedings from the sin bin was Walton who had all but five seconds remaining in his tripping penalty.
Walton went from goat to hero in a matter of minutes after he beat Stephen Heslop at 12:07.
Then with 3.2 seconds left in the first period, Trevor Yee wired the puck over Halverson’s glove to give Peninsula a one goal lead entering the first intermission.
Cougars’ head coach Mark Van Helvoirt made a bold move by replacing Halverson, who had made eight saves on ten first period shots, with Evan Roch at the beginning of the second period. The move paid off as Roch stopped all 21 Panther shots.
After going around a pair of Peninsula defenders, Walton tied the game at 1:06 of the second period with a backhander along the ice.
Josh Wyatt (left), Brody Coulter (centre) and Steve Axford, pose with the Championship trophy (Photo by Richard Hyde)
Victoria went ahead 3-2 on Steve Axford’s game winner. At 4:32, Sam Rice fed the puck to Axford who fooled Heslop with a backhander of his own after cutting across the slot area. Then a wraparound by Colin Minardi 21 seconds later doubled the lead which ultimately ended Heslop’s night.
Heslop finished with 10-of-14 saves.
It remained a two goal game until the 12:40 mark of the third period when Graham Zagrodney found the back of the net from the slot. The goal came on the powerplay.
Kylar Stern, solid in relief, turned aside 23-of-24 shots.
The Panthers were outscored 24-4 through four games.
Frustrations boiled over for Bloomenthal who received a double minor for spearing Rhys Williams late in the game. David Stephens, who racked up 36 penalty minutes in the series, received his third ten minute misconduct in as many games with less than two minutes remaining in regulation.
The Cougars went 1-for-6 on the powerplay; meanwhile, Peninsula, who had squandered a lengthy two man powerplay, went 1-for-5.
Panther forwards Joe Densmore hit the goal post in the second period while Dane Gibson hit the cross bar with six minutes remaining in the third.
Teams shake hands after the end of the game (Photo by Richard Hyde).
After the game, VIJHL president Greg Batters presented the Brent Patterson Memorial Trophy to Brody Coulter, Josh Wyatt and Axford.
In the past seven seasons, Victoria has placed first overall in the standings three times and has placed second overall four times. The Cougars have also made it to the VIJHL Championship Series six times in the past eight years.
For the five graduating Panthers players – Jake Bryan, Joe Densmore, Brock Dodsworth, Tyler Porteous, and Trevor Yee, Saturday’s game was their last hurrah.
Next game for Victoria is Thursday, April 12 against the Abbotsford Pilots. Game time at MSA Arena, located at 2323 Emerson Street in Abbotsford, is 7:30 p.m.
CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES MOST VALUABLE PLAYERS:
Sam Rice (Victoria Cougars)
Jake Bryan (Peninsula Panthers)
Jake Bryan (left) and Sam Rice (right) earned the playoff MVP awards for their respective teams (Photo by Richard Hyde).