With the Victoria Cougars wrapping up the season in the coming weeks, the team has shifted into playoff mode, with hopes of reclaiming the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) championship for a second year in a row.
The young team has been a powerhouse this season with a record of 31-8-0-5, as of Tuesday night, and claimed its seventh consecutive South Island Division title. Despite the sudden departure of long-time head coach Mark Van Helvoirt early in the season due to personal reasons, assistant coach Suneil Karod took over the team, establishing a new plan beginning with a new identity and strong leadership on and off the ice.
“We came together really well. The first little bit was a learning curve for all of us, taking over the team so abruptly with a couple of guys leaving and a couple of guys coming. It took a while to get our identity, but as of late we’ve gelled well together as a team,” Karod said, adding newcomer Nick Gomerich, who played in the Western Hockey League and junior A, played a big role in providing leadership for the younger players.
“We had really good leadership . . . it’s nice to see a package coming together.”
The Cougars have proved they’re a force to be reckoned with on the ice as well.
Forward Grayden Hohl leads the team in scoring with 57 points so far this season and is third in scoring in the league. Tyler Vanuden, who came to the team from Ontario, trails Hohl with 46 points, followed by Gomerich with 43, both of whom cracked the top 15 in league scoring leaders.
Last year, the Cougars had an exciting season, clinching first place in the South Island Division, bringing home their sixth straight Andy Hebenton Trophy for the most points during the regular season, and eventually winning the VIJHL championship.
Heading into playoffs this year, the Cougars have their sights fixed on the VIJHL championship for a second year in a row.
“We play one game at a time. We’re going to focus on that first round. We don’t look at it as a seven-game series, it’s just one game at a time,” Karod said.
“That’s a goal that we set as a team to win the South Island Division, win the league, and go on into the playoffs and win that, but we have eight strong teams so it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Up next, the Cougars take on the Saanich Braves at George Pearkes Arena beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 10, followed by a game next Thursday and Friday against the Comox Valley Glacier Kings and the Campbell River Storm. For tickets visit victoriacougars.com.