Pilots forward Chris Vinette celebrates after opening the scoring against the Victoria Cougars in the first period on Thursday. The Cougars rallied

Pilots forward Chris Vinette celebrates after opening the scoring against the Victoria Cougars in the first period on Thursday. The Cougars rallied

Bannister’s hat trick powers Cougars past Pilots in Cyclone Taylor Cup opener

One game into the Cyclone Taylor Cup, the host Abbotsford Pilots are already into must-win territory.

One game into the Cyclone Taylor Cup, the host Abbotsford Pilots are already into must-win territory.

They can blame Chris Bannister for that. The Victoria Cougars forward had a monster game on Thursday evening, scoring all three of his team’s goals in a 3-2 win over the Pilots at MSA Arena. It was the first round-robin game for both teams at the provincial junior B hockey championship tourney.

Bannister’s last goal came with 8:40 left in the third period, as he pounced on a loose puck in a goalmouth scramble and poked it past Pilots goalie Aaron Oakley to snap a 2-2 tie.

Abbotsford had a golden opportunity to level the score in the late going when the Cougars were whistled for a pair of overlapping penalties – a boarding call on Josh Wyatt, and a double-minor for spearing on Steven Axford.

But goalie Evan Roch and the Cougars kept the Pilots at bay, and the Vancouver Island champs escaped with the victory.

“On all three goals they got, we seemed to be running around (in the defensive zone),” noted Pilots head coach Jim Cowden, whose team got goals from Chris Vinette and Kevin Lourens. “And it cost us.”

In the early game on Thursday, the Delta Ice Hawks and the Beaver Valley Nitehawks battled to a 1-1 draw. The Ice Hawks out-shot the Kootenay champs 44-35, and opened the scoring on a power-play goal from John Procter late in the first period. But the Nitehawks salvaged the tie when Dallas Calvin tallied at 16:30 of the second.

On Friday, the round robin continues with Victoria and Beaver Valley clashing at 3 p.m., followed by Pacific International Junior Hockey League rivals Delta and Abbotsford locking horns at 7:30 p.m.

The teams with the two best records advance to the final, which puts the Pilots in a must-win situation.