With a chunk of the team’s core looking on from the stands, injured, the Victoria Cougars still managed to look like they walked through the Campbell River Storm with a 6-1 win at the Archie Browning Sports Centre last Thursday (Feb. 16).
Before the game, captain Brody Coulter accepted the Andy Hebenton Trophy on behalf of the Cougars as the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League’s regular season champs – the fourth time the Cougars have finished first in the last six years.
There may be some superstitions in the junior and pro hockey worlds about touching the “lesser” awards along the way to a playoff championship. Coulter is not about that, gladly picking the trophy up before the game.
“It’s not the trophy we want. But no, there’s no superstitions.”
With a first-round bye, the Cougars will watch the rest of the league start the playoffs this week.
It gives the Cougars, including Coulter, who sat Thursday’s game out, a chance to jump into the second round with full health.
Coulter, along with alternate captain Rhys Williams, Ben Kinshella, Thor Rosback and Trevor Chown, continued their “rehabilitation” as on-ice assistants for the Victoria Ice Hawks minor hockey association’s shootout competition, which took place during the intermissions of Thursday’s game.
“(The injured players) are probably playoff-ready but there’s no reason to rush them back,” said Cougars coach Mark Van Helvoirt. Even without Coulter, who dropped out of the scoring title race by missing the last two games, the Cougars brought enough intensity to bomb the Storm in front of hundreds of youth hockey players.
Chris Bannister scored twice for the Cougars, as Sam Rice, Josh Wyatt, Wade Johnson and Nathan Chen-Mack each scored once in the win. Netminder Evan Roch stopped 34 of 35.
Last season the battle for the Hebenton and its right to home advantage throughout the playoffs went down to the wire between the Cougars and Panthers. Only in the last game of the season did the Cougars clinch it.
This year the Cougars clinched it in mid-January, making for some mental challenges, which the Cougars clearly overcame, ending the season on a 15-game winning streak.
“Clinching so early had is disadvantages. We took it one game at a time, like every game is the first game of the playoffs,” Coulter said.
Except the playoffs are a different season, Coulter added. And this year there was no foe like the Panthers were last year. A foe to keep the Cougars razor sharp.
“Right now, Saanich (Braves) is probably our biggest rival. (Obviously) playoffs are more physical. We’re a skilled team, but we don’t win without working hard. Saanich is also more of a skilled team. They have good defence and a strong goalie.”
The Cougars ended the regular season in Parksville on Saturday with a 4-2 win over the Oceanside Generals. Josh Wyatt scored twice and Chris Bannister and Colin Minardi each scored once. Bryce Halverson got the win in net with 18 saves.
Jones, Axford draw for scoring lead
All season long it looked like Brody Coulter would take the Island junior B scoring title. A minor injury kept Coulter out of the last two games, when teammate Steve Axford and Braves captain Ty Jones leapfrogged Coulter for the scoring title.
Jones (34 goals, 41 assists) and Axford (25 goals, 50 assists) finished with 75 points apiece. Coulter finishes third with 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists).
Jones’ 34 goals are also league leading, and he managed 75 points in 34 games, seven lass than Axford.
Braves’ forward Jack Palmer is the top scoring rookie, sixth overall. A linemate of Jones’, Palmer scored 24 goals and 29 assists for 53 points in 37 games. The 6-foot-1 rookie is set to join the Brandon Wheat Kings for the 2012-13 season, the team’s eighth round pick in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft.