With the Victoria Cougars coming off a stellar regular season, the next challenge is a difficult one: taking on the Kerry Park Islanders in the first round of Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League playoff action.
The Cougars are coming off one of the most exciting regular seasons in recent history, clinching first place in the South Island Division with a 38-5-1-1 record and bringing home their sixth straight Andy Hebenton Trophy for the most points during the regular season.
Their record also includes an impressive 23 game-winning streak, which was snapped by the Nanaimo Buccaneers last month.
Head coach Mark Van Helvoirt attributes the team’s success not to talent, but dedication.
“We’ve got a really committed group, maybe not the most talented team that I’ve coached here with the Cougars, but the group’s really committed — committed to each other and improvement,” Van Helvoirt said.
He added they’ve got depth with all four lines, two strong goalies in Anthony Ciurro and Gregory Maggio and seven capable defencemen.
“With that commitment level and the depth on our roster, it’s made for a good season,” Van Helvoirt said.
The Cougars have proved they’re a force to be reckoned with on ice.
Forwards Nathan Looysen, Cody Hodges and Dom Kolbeins are in the top five scoring leaders in the league with 101, 92 and 79 points, respectively.
“Obviously they’ve had really good individual seasons, but they’ve been team-first and they’ve been working extremely hard within our team concepts,” Van Helvoirt said. “You work for the system and the system works back for you.”
The team has also been solid in net with Ciurro, who has notched a league-leading 26 wins and a 0.930 save percentage.
But the young netminder was quick to point out his victories are a team effort.
“My team’s been pretty solid in front of me and keeping my life pretty easy,” Ciurro said. “I just want to keep things simple and give my team a chance to win every game.”
With another impressive season in the books, the Cougars will get set to face the Kerry Park Islanders in the first round of playoff action this week.
The Cougars are 8-0-0-0 against the Islanders this season, with their most recent 9-2 victory just last Thursday.
Van Helvoirt said the key is to focus on the game and not worry too much about their opponent.
“Kerry Park is a strong team and we just have to focus on what we do well and that’s skating,” Van Helvoirt said, adding the team will work on dictating the pace of the game.
“At this point, it’s a fresh start for all teams. It’ll be about regaining that momentum here come Thursday.”
Game one gets underway at home on Thursday, Feb. 25.
Last season, the Cougars went to the VIJHL finals, before losing to the Campbell River Storm.