By Peter Kung
September 4, 2013, Victoria, BC (ISN) – The reigning Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League champion Victoria Cougars begins their title defense this Thursday against the Comox Valley Glacier Kings. Game time at the Archie Browning Sports Centre, located at 1151 Esquimalt Road, is 7:00 p.m. Here’s a look at how the 2013-2014 Cougars are stacking up.
It has been a while since a team from the V.I.J.H.L. has won three consecutive championships.
The Campbell River Storm, who would eventually go on to win seven straight league titles from 1998-2004, was the last team to accomplish such a feat.
Now, Victoria has a chance to make its own history.
Having previously hoisted the Brent Patterson Memorial Trophy in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2012, and 2013, the Cougars go for the elusive three-peat. Victoria beat the Peninsula Panthers two seasons ago and then defeated Comox Valley last year in a four-game sweep.
The Cougars return seven players from last season.
One of those players is Mark Walton who was recently named team captain. Serving as an alternate captain last year, Walton takes over the reins from Brody Coulter.
“Mark is one of the most well rounded players at this level,” Cougars’ head coach Mark Van Helvoirt said. “His game is so diverse and is excellent in all three zones. Mark is an asset on both special teams and his compete level is through the roof.”
Also returning are forwards Jacob Daughtry, Jordan Davie, Wade Johnson, and David Marshall, as well as defenseman Jakob Stolz and Graham Zagrodney.
It was an extremely busy off-season for Mark Van Helvoirt and the rest of the coaching staff.
The Cougars’ head coach spent the past few months revamping his roster which was decimated by graduating players and players who have moved on to Junior A.
“It will certainly be a different looking team from last year with the majority being new faces,” Van Helvoirt said.
Gone is Coulter who amassed a league high 118 points. Gone is Evan Roch who led all goaltenders in the V.I.J.H.L. with a 1.79 goals against average and a .920 save percentage. Gone is Sam Rice who finished second in league scoring with 96 points. Also lost through the graduation process were 63-point man Ben Kinshella and defensive defenseman Rhys Williams.
And during the off-season, five Cougars were gobbled up by various Junior A clubs. Brandon Egli was signed by the Victoria Grizzlies of the British Columbia Hockey League, Dane Feeney was signed by the Dryden Ice Dogs of the Superior International Junior Hockey League, Brandon Workun was signed by the Flin Flon Bombers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, Robert Zadra was signed by the Melfort Mustangs of the S.J.H.L., and Matthew Ho is playing Junior A in Boston, Massachusetts.
Even with all the changes in personnel, Van Helvoirt is still optimistic about the upcoming season.
“The coaching staff is looking forward to the challenge,” Van Helvoirt said.
After leading the V.I.J.H.L. with 275 goals last year, the Cougars could again be dominant in the offensive zone.
Johnson is a dark horse to replace the scoring left behind by Coulter. As a 17-year-old last year, the five-foot-eleven, 180-pound power forward posted 21 goals and 15 assists for 36 points in 38 games. Expect Johnson to pay huge dividends.
Also, do not count out Walton who last year amassed a career high 52 points.
Joining the core group of veterans will be Liam Carradine, Michael Fretz, Jordan Law, Cameron MacKay, Jordan Marciniak, and Blake Roney.
A couple of new additions to keep a watch out for are Nick Bower and Ryan Carson.
“Nick has been a welcome addition,” Van Helvoirt said. “He is a team first type of player and seems to always want to learn more. Nick has come in here with a great attitude and always wants to do whatever he can do to help his team succeed.”
And as for Carson.
“Ryan has the full skill set and the determination to go with it. If he is willing to put all those skills to work for the team, I expect he can have a very productive season for our club,” Van Helvoirt said.
On the blue line, Stolz and Zagrodney will be relied on for big minutes.
“Jakob is one of those defensemen that everyone loves to have on their team,” Van Helvoirt said. “He is the ultimate defender. Jakob takes pride in trying to give his opponent nothing easy.”
Meanwhile, Zagrodney bring a whole different set of tools to the table.
“Graham is one of the more complete defensemen. He is a great defender and has the ability to contribute offensively from the backend,” Van Helvoirt said.
Howard Howden and Jesse Nixon return after spending last season as affiliate players.
Factor in John Kretzschmar, Nicolas Lyons, Thomas Sercombe, and Patrick Webb; the Cougars have plenty of depth and a good mix.
With Roch having graduated and Michael Herringer trying to crack the Victoria Royals roster, goaltending was a question mark entering training camp.
However, that question was answered when Connor Beauchamp was acquired from the K.I.J.H.L. champion Castlegar Rebels. Beauchamp, who posted a 14-6-5 record, a 2.31 G.A.A. and a .918 S.P. during the regular season, backstopped Castlegar to a bronze medal at the Cyclone Taylor Cup last April.
The backup position will be filled by Nathan Hargrave from the Abbotsford Minor Hockey Association.
“The success of this year’s club and its players will depend on how well they come together as a team,” Van Helvoirt said. “And how hard they are willing to push themselves and improve over the course of our seven month season.”
Time will tell.