By Peter Kung
ABBOTSFORD, BC – The Victoria Cougars are off to the gold medal game of the 2012 Cyclone Taylor Cup, as Evan Roch turned in another spectacular performance Friday afternoon, stopping all 29 shots in a 3-0 victory over the high-flying Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
Abbotsford’s 6-4 win over the Delta Icehawks in the late game of day 2, handed the Cougars first place overall in the round-robin portion of the tournament and home ice advantage in the Gold Medal game. Abbotsford is now the only team who can match the Cougars four points so far, and the Cougars hold the tie-breaker, having defeated the Pilots 3-2 on day one of the competition
Had it not been for Roch, Victoria (2-0-0) would have faced a must win situation Saturday in their last game of round-robin play if they had any notions of bringing home the gold.
Instead, the Cougars will now wait and see as to what will unfold between Beaver Valley (0-1-1), the Delta Ice Hawks (0-0-1), and the host Abbotsford Pilots (0-1-0). The team which finishes the round-robin with the better record will face Victoria Sunday afternoon for all the marbles.
Remarkably, there was no scoring until the 5:11 mark of the third period when Chris Bannister, who notched his tournament leading fourth goal, beat goalie Zach Perehudoff from the slot.
Both head coaches matched strength against strength in the early going. Mark Van Helvoirt of Victoria had his top line of Steve Axford, Josh Wyatt, and Sam Rice against the trio of Chris Derochie, Ryan Edwards, and Craig Martin.
Between Derochie, Edwards, and Martin, the three Nitehawk players racked up a combined 292 points during the regular season.
But it was Roch who again was stealing the spotlight and making a name for himself.
After playing a good opening period, the Cougars fell apart in the middle frame. Back on its heels for most of the period, Victoria got outshot by an unprecedented margin of 13-6.
In the second period, there were several anxious moments in the Cougars end of the ice.
Dallas Calvin came close to scoring his second goal of the tournament after he was set up by Jake Lucchini. But out of nowhere, Roch kicked out his left pad to preserve the goose egg.
Then with two and half minutes to play in the period, Derochie got behind enemy lines only to have his shot turned aside by Roch.
And with time winding down, a Victoria miscue led to Calvin being left all alone in front of Roch. Fortunately for the Cougars, Calvin fired the puck over the net.
After Brody Coulter set up Bannister for Victoria’s first goal, Wyatt made it 2-0 only 92 seconds later. Although getting no credit whatsoever, it was Axford’s forecheck which led to Wyatt’s goal.
Martin, who scored a league-high 48 goals as a 16-year-old this season, was robbed when his shot from the slot with three minutes remaining in regulation was picked out of the air by Roch.
With his back to the wall, Nitehawks’ bench boss Terry Jones pulled Perehudoff for an extra attacker. The plan backfired when Rice scored into the empty net with 18 seconds left.
Perehudoff finished with 24 saves.
The Cougars went 0-for-6 on the powerplay; meanwhile, Beaver Valley went 0-for-3.
Next game for Victoria is Saturday, April 14 against the Delta Ice Hawks. Game time at MSA Arena, located at 2323 Emerson Street, is 3:00 p.m.