ESQUIMALT, B.C. – Christmas came early for the Victoria Cougars and their fans when John Kretzschmar was on the ice for the opening faceoff.
Kretzschmar, who returned to the lineup on Thursday after sitting out 14 games with an upper body injury, helped Victoria to a 7-0 win over the Kerry Park Islanders by chipping in with an assist on the game’s first goal.
Also making their way back from injury were Kurtis Gamble and Austin Wilk.
The return of these three players allowed Mark Van Helvoirt to ice a full lineup (without help from the farm) for the first time since September 19.
Mitch Moloney was also a welcome addition after the rugged defenseman finished serving a three-game suspension.
On a day when Kerry Park got its leading scorer Keenan Eddy back from injury, it was Cougars goalie Anthony Ciurro who stole the spotlight once the game started.
Ciurro made 22 saves for his league-leading fifth shutout of the season. Holding the franchise record for shutouts in a single regular season is Connor Beauchamp who tallied nine goose eggs a couple of years ago.
Scoring twice for Victoria were Kameron Fink and Ryan Carson while Dom Kolbeins, Cody Hodges, and Brett Lervold each added singles.
The Cougars improve to 17-4-1-0 on the season and will put their seven-game winning streak on the line against the Peninsula Panthers on Friday.
Fink opened the scoring on the power play at 1:57 of the first period off a cross-ice feed from Lane Vandewetering. Watching the proceedings from the sin bin was Tanner Browne who was serving a two minute minor for boarding.
The same two players, Fink and Vandewetering, hooked up again to give Victoria a 2-0 lead at 11:50.
13 seconds into Ty Berger’s tripping penalty, Kolbeins banged home a Carson rebound at 14:13 to extend his point streak to 20 games.
After the goal, the Islanders called a timeout.
Late in the period, Fink avoided serious injury when Gamble’s howitzer from the point grazed off his helmet.
Carson gave the Cougars a 4-0 lead on a brilliant end-to-end rush at 1:24 of the second period.
There was no scoring until the 14:18 mark when Hodges blew past Connor Bissett and roofed the puck over the glove of goalie Ty Rennie.
Special teams were a factor in the third period as Victoria scored both their goals with the man advantage.
Lynden Eddy, who tripped Kolbeins at the Kerry Park blue line, put the Cougars back on the power play. From the slot, Hodges extended the lead to 6-0 at 1:06.
A ruckus at 7:59 which had Carlos Grouchy of Victoria and Corey Peterson, David Bittner, and Kyle Green of the Islanders all receiving penalties put the No. 1 ranked power play back to work.
At the tail end of the man advantage, Lervold gobbled up a juicy rebound at 9:45 for his eighth goal of the season.
Kerry Park, who has not scored against the Cougars in over four games, drops to 10-12-1-0.
Nathan Looysen, with two more points, continues to lead the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League in scoring with 16 goals and 37 assists.
Victoria has outscored the Islanders 31-3 in five meetings.
Rennie made 32 saves in a losing effort.
The Cougars finished 4-for-6 with the man advantage; meanwhile, Kerry Park went 0-for-4.
Kelby Wittich was called into action as an emergency replacement after one of the linesman exited with an ankle injury two minutes into the game.
Elsewhere in the VIJHL, Josh Harvey had a goal and three assists and Matt Henwood made 41 saves as the visiting Oceanside Generals upset the Nanaimo Buccaneers 5-4 in front of 223 spectators at the Nanaimo Ice Centre.
Next game for Victoria is Friday, November 20 versus the Peninsula Panthers. Game time at Panorama Recreation Centre, located at 1885 Forest Park Drive, is 7:30 p.m.
1st star, Anthony Ciurro (Saves: 22, Save Percentage: 1.000)
2nd star, Kameron Fink (Goals: 2, Assists: 1)
3rd star, Kurtis Gamble (Goals: 0, Assists: 1)