By Peter Kung

ABBOTSFORD, BC (ISN) – Chris Bannister scored the game winner midway through the third period to propel the Victoria Cougars to a 3-2 victory over the host Abbotsford Pilots on Day 1 of the Cyclone Taylor Cup tournament.

The win, coupled with a 1-1 draw between the Beaver Valley Nitehawks and Delta Ice Hawks earlier in the day, has Victoria atop of the standings with two points.

But the win on Thursday did not come easy.

After Bannister scored his third goal of the game, Victoria was forced to kill off back-to-back penalties.

Just over a minute after Bannister had given the Cougars their second and final lead, referee Jeff Eden assessed Josh Wyatt a two minute minor for boarding. Then less than two minutes later, Steve Axford received a double minor for spearing Riley Lamb in the defensive zone.

The penalties resulted in a two man advantage for Abbotsford for 29 seconds.

After successfully killing off Wyatt’s penalty, Victoria still had three minutes and 31-seconds of Axford’s penalty to deal with.

And it was the longest three minutes and 31-seconds of the season for both the Cougars and their fans.

The Pilots pressed for the tying goal but were unable to solve goaltender Evan Roch.

In fact, Roch, who made a total of 30 saves which included turning aside all 12 third period shots, kept the game from getting out of hand.

Roch came up with several difficult saves before Christopher Vinette finally managed to sneak one behind him at the 15:19 mark of the opening frame.

The game remained 1-0 in favour of the Pilots before Bannister tied the game after being set up perfectly by Brody Coulter at 1:39 of the second period.

Then at 4:58, Bannister banged home a Graham Zagrodney point shot to give Victoria a 2-1 advantage.

But the lead lasted for only six minutes when Kevin Lourens tied the game from the edge of the crease. The goal, which was scored at 10:42, came on the powerplay.

Four minutes later, Garett Lynum came close to giving Abbotsford the lead but his deflection rang off the iron.

During the second period, both teams lost key players. Jake Nixon of Victoria was ejected at 9:36 after receiving a checking-from-behind penalty. Lourens left the game at the 14 minute mark after he received a gash to the left side of his head.

Abbotsford and its hometown fans celebrated after the red light had come on at 4:39 of the third period. However, the goal was disallowed after Eden ruled that the net had come off its moorings before the puck crossed the goal line.

Roch, who posted a minuscule 0.58 goals against average during the VIJHL playoffs, kept the game knotted at two apiece after robbing Brady Lawlor from scoring off a partial breakaway with 11 minutes left.

Not to be out-shined by his teammate, Bannister would go on to record the hat-trick.

After Aaron Oakley could not handle Kurtis Kunz’s point shot, Bannister pounced on the loose puck and deposited it into a wide open cage at 11:20.

Head coach Jim Cowden pulled Oakley for an extra attacker with 46 seconds remaining in regulation. And despite the area in front of Roch looking like a parking lot on Christmas Eve, Abbotsford was unable to register a shot on goal.

The Cougars went 0-for-2 on the powerplay; meanwhile, Abbotsford went 1-for-6.

Next game for Victoria is Friday, April 13 against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks. Game time at MSA Arena, located at 2323 Emerson Street, is 3:00 p.m.