Hockey night in the region

It’s March and it’s the height of hockey season for Greater Victoria fans.

It’s March and it’s the height of hockey season for Greater Victoria fans.

Many are following the Vancouver Canucks, hoping the Northwest Division leaders will make a return trip to the National Hockey League championship series, and with a little luck, score their first Stanley Cup win.

The Western Hockey League’s Victoria Royals have developed a following of their own in their first season here after replacing the ECHL Salmon Kings. At week’s end the Royals looked like a safe bet to make the playoffs, following an exciting, if somewhat of a roller-coaster regular season of major junior hockey.

But the place to be on many hockey nights in the Capital Region over the past couple of weeks has been any of the three rinks that are home to junior B teams.

Led by the Island league’s regular season champion Victoria Cougars, local teams have given diehard fans and infrequent spectators the type of entertainment that keeps ’em coming back. The always-tough Cougars are taking on Mill Bay’s Kerry Park Islanders in one semifinal, while the defending playoff champ Peninsula Panthers are battling the Saanich Braves in the other.

These high school-aged players leave little on the ice and offer up everything from tight defensive battles to high-scoring goalfests.

Fans packing Archie Browning Sports Centre in Esquimalt (Cougars), Pearkes Rec Centre in Saanich and Panorama Rec Centre in North Saanich (Panthers) know they need not shell out big dough to experience exciting, inspiring games. It doesn’t hurt that the price of a hot dog or popcorn is modest as well.

On the West Shore, the struggles of the junior A Victoria Grizzlies this year have been somewhat counteracted by news that the area will get a junior B team back for next season.

Overall, there’s plenty of signs that hockey remains a passion in the Capital Region, no matter who’s playing the game.