They may have started Sunday in last place, but the Victoria Cougars are quietly showing their South Division counterparts that they mean business.
The Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League team won their second game in a row and fourth in five games Sunday in Mill Bay, 3-1 over the Kerry Park Islanders. The Cougars (9-6-0-0), who played with a short bench – 11 forwards and four defencemen – ended the weekend two points closer to the front-running Westshore Wolves (10-8-0-1), who lost 5-2 to Victoria on Thursday at Esquimalt’s Archie Browning Sports Centre.
This season is seeing the tightest competition in the South in recent memory, with all five teams taking turns beating each other and just four points separating top to bottom to start this week.
The young Cougars, who lost three and two in a row early on, appear to be gaining some of the poise that has helped this club qualify for seven straight VIJHL finals.
“Those divisional games, they’re four-pointers,” said Cougars head coach Suneil Karod. “I think our guys are finally kind of realizing what these rivalries mean, a lot of our guys are young and may not understand … Westshore, Saanich, Peninsula, they don’t like us.”
Not only do the Cougars have the best winning percentage in the division and third-best in the league behind the powerhouse Nanaimo Buccaneers and Campbell River Storm, their goals for and against averages are best or near-best in the South. And in their lone defeat in those past five games, on Oct. 26, they skated with the Bucs all game before giving up the winning goal in a 3-2 loss later in the third period.
“To compete with the best teams in the province [like the Buccaneers] with the young team we have, I think we’re heading in the right direction.” Karod said.
Kyle Wade, playing his second game after being sidelined with a lung infection, scored twice and goalie Patrick Ostermann made 30 saves to lead the Cats to victory on Sunday. Victoria led 2-0 after one, with Darwin Lakoduk netting the opening goal 2:11 in, his team-leading 10th of the season. The Islanders got one back from Brandon Wilson midway through the second. Wade bagged the insurance goal 17:47 into the third, set up by Lakoduk and Tyler Vanuden.
The team is fortunate to have Wade return to quarterback the power play, and is seeing continued consistent play and leadership from the veteran Vanuden, Karod said. As well, Ostermann is finding his groove and the team is playing better in front of him, the coach added.
On Thursday at home, Akila Sato-Gaudreau scored twice and the Cougars never trailed against Westshore.
Goals from Sato-Gaudreau, Carl Ewert and Foster Wilson, unassisted on the power play, gave Victoria a 3-0 lead that held until the late stages of the second period, when Cameron Coutre got the Wolves on the board. Sato-Gaudreau and Westshore’s Brandon Tutte traded goals early in the third, but Lakoduk tallied an insurance goal with 2:13 to play.
The Cougars next action is Thursday (Nov. 9) at home against the Comox Valley Glacier Kings. Game time is 7 p.m.