Victoria Cougars player Jordan Marciniak falls Sunday at the Archie Browning arena.

Victoria Cougars player Jordan Marciniak falls Sunday at the Archie Browning arena.

Cougars on top, but league coming on

Rarely do the Victoria Cougars have added motivation against their closest VIJHL rivals, the Saanich Braves.

Rarely do the Victoria Cougars have added motivation against their closest Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League rivals, the Saanich Braves.

But the Braves shut out the Cougars 2-0 at Pearkes Arena on Friday, the first time the Cougars’ were held scoreless since the Peninsula Panthers defeated them 5-0 on Sept. 9, 2010. It’s a sign of the Cougars’ mortality as it was their fifth regulation loss this year, compared to just one last year.

“The (Cougars) players are more unhappy about losing in general and the way they played,” said Cougars associate coach Suneil Karod. “They didn’t execute. If you play well, that’s the biggest key, and our guys understand we didn’t have a strong game.”

The Cougars (25-5-2) bounced back with a gritty 3-2 home win over the Westshore Wolves (11-14-5) on Sunday, and host the Braves (10-18-1) on Thursday (Dec. 19) with a 7 p.m. start time at Archie Browning Sports Centre.

It’s Karod’s fifth season with the Cougars and he’s been part of its dominant past two years during as the second place team in the Fred “Cyclone” Taylor Cup junior B provincial championships.

The makeup of this year’s Cougars team is far different than the past two seasons, however, and so is the league.

“Right now we have four lines who can score any given night.”

It’s a big change from last year when the Cougars had one line that scored, Brody Coulter’s, and three lines that didn’t get scored on.

“Now it’s four lines that rarely get scored on and four that can score, so it’s more of an even balance,” Karod said.

Because of their succes the Cougars are a barometer for the VIJHL. Evidence suggests greater parity in the league, something many coaches agree with. The league is catching up to the Cougars in the same way it once caught up iwth the Campbell River Storm during that team’s run which ended in the early 2000s.

“Last year we rolled over every team in this league and in provincials we played (the Richmond Sockeyes), a team like ours, and had a tough time. If we played a team like that 10 times during the year it would help,” Karod said.