Stage set for Campbell River Storm and Victoria Cougars matchup

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(ISN) – Victoria – This Thursday, the South Island Division leading Victoria Cougars will play host to the North Island Division leading Campbell River Storm in unarguably the most highly anticipated game to date.

Game time at the Archie Browning Sports Centre, located at 1151 Esquimalt Road, is 7:00 p.m.

And if Thursday’s game is anything like the last time these two teams met, this matchup should again be a dandy.

A lot is at stake for both Campbell River and the Cougars. With both teams close to wrapping up first place in their respective divisions, the Andy Hebenton Trophy (awarded by the VIJHL to the team that finishes with the most points during the regular season) is still up for grabs.

Winning the Andy Hebenton Trophy has one privilege – home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Victoria is 15-1-1-0 at the A.B.S.C. while the Storm is 18-1-0-0 at the Rod Brind’Amour Arena.

Both the Cougars and Campbell River also enter Thursday’s tilt as the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked Junior B teams in all of British Columbia.

Currently, only one point separates the Storm and Victoria in the standings. The Cougars though have one game in hand on Campbell River which they will use on Wednesday night versus the Westshore Wolves.

Ranked third in the province are the KIJHL-leading Osoyoos Coyotes with a record of 33-6-0-1 and a winning percentage of .838.

It has been a two-horse race between Victoria’s Sam McMullen and Storm’s Will McNamara for the VIJHL scoring title. Currently, McMullen has a slim three point lead over McNamara with roughly five weeks to go in the VIJHL regular season.

These two star-studded teams have been evenly matched since Day 1.

Both Campbell River and the Cougars rank 1-2 in offense, defense, power play efficiency, and penalty kill.

The Storm bolsters the VIJHL’s top offense, scoring a province-high 211 goals. In contrast, the Cougars have, prior to Wednesday, allowed only 71 goals against, the fewest in the VIJHL and in all of British Columbia.

Special teams will also be a factor Thursday as the Storm’s No. 1 power play goes up against Victoria’s No. 1 penalty kill.

In their last meeting back on December 14, the Cougars beat Campbell River 4-3 in overtime.

After Victoria built up a 2-0 lead on goals from Michael Fretz and Lane Van de Wetering going into the third period, McNamara, Colin Blake, and Gage Colpron, who scored with one minute and 14 seconds left in regulation, gave the Storm a one goal advantage.

Intense nervousness set in at the A.B.S.C.

But then with Anthony Ciurro pulled for an extra attacker, Aiden Silzer-Hooker took a cross-ice pass from McMullen and ripped a one-timer past Jesse Michel with just 6.1 seconds remaining to tie the game at 3-3.

Then at the 2:20 mark of overtime, McMullen fended off a check from Nathan Browne before dishing the puck off to Brett Lervold for his 21st goal of the season.

Dane Feeney, who missed the entire month of December with an injury, returned to the Campbell River lineup with a vengeance. The five-foot-seven, 150-pound offensive dynamo has four goals and three assists in his last three games.

There was some late night activity prior to the January 10 trade deadline. The Storm dealt cash and a player to be named later to the Peninsula Panthers in exchange for 19-year-old forward Reece Costain. And in a separate deal, Campbell River acquired 17-year-old goaltender Riley Welyk from the Westshore Wolves to backup Michel.

Michael Olson, who has 24 goals and 52 points on the season for the Storm, suffered an upper-body injury over a week ago and is expected to miss up to a month.

Campbell River has not played since January 9 after doubling up on the cellar-dwelling Oceanside Generals 6-3.

Elsewhere in the VIJHL on Thursday, the Comox Valley Glacier Kings travels to Nanaimo to take on the Buccaneers at the Nanaimo Ice Centre.

STANDINGS: Victoria – 1st place, 63 points, South Island Division. Campbell River – 1st place, 64 points, North Island Division

OFFENSE: Victoria – 2nd place, 4.89 goals for per game. Campbell River – 1st place, 5.70 goals for per game

DEFENSE: Victoria – 1st place, 1.97 goals against per game. Campbell River – 2nd place, 2.54 goals against per game

TEAM LEADERS: Victoria – Michael Fretz, Wade Johnson, 28 goals; Sam McMullen, 47 assists; Sam McMullen, 71 points; John Kretzschmar, 67 penalty minutes. Campbell River – Will McNamara, 31 goals; Tyler Welsh, 39 assists; Will McNamara, 68 points; Will McNamara, Brendan Enns, 96 penalty minutes

GOALTENDERS: Victoria – Anthony Ciurro (1.51 goals against average, .934 save percentage); Grant Payne (2.32 goals against average, .895 save percentage). Campbell River – Jesse Michel (2.37 goals against average, .906 save percentage); Riley Welyk (4.29 goals against average, .866 save percentage)

POWER PLAY: Victoria – 2nd place, 43-for-185, 23.24 percent. Campbell River – 1st place, 58-for-248, 23.39 percent

PENALTY KILL: Victoria – 1st place, 151-for-165, 91.52 percent. Campbell River – 2nd place, 158-for-183, 86.34 percent

SEASON SERIES: Series tied, 1-1-0-0

September 13, 2014. Victoria Cougars 3 @ Campbell River Storm 8
December 14, 2014. Campbell River Storm 3 @ Victoria Cougars 4 (OT)
February 13, 2015. Victoria Cougars @ Campbell River Storm

HOME/AWAY RECORDS: Victoria – Home, 15-1-1-0. Campbell River – Away, 12-2-1-3

STREAKS: Victoria, 4-0-0-0. Campbell River, 1-0-0-0

LAST TEN: Victoria, 9-1-0-0. Campbell River, 8-1-0-1