Island league rivals are coworkers off the ice

Rival VIJHL players from Saanich Braves and Victoria Cougars face each other at Kirby's Source for Sports

Kirby’s Source for Sports employees Mark Walton

As the junior B season progresses, things will likely get increasingly awkward between four employees at Kirby’s Source for Sports on Cloverdale Avenue.

Brody Coulter, Mark Walton, Sam Johnston and Sam McMullen all carry equal roles within the store. They stock shelves, sharpen skates, help customers and handle front desk sales.

But on the ice, they’re on opposing sides of the league’s biggest rivalry in 2012-13.

Coulter captained the Victoria Cougars to within a goal of the Cyclone Taylor Cup provincial championship last year and is poised to finish that mission with B.C.’s No. 1 ranked team. Walton is an assistant captain and is exploding offensively.

Johnston and McMullen are in their third years with the Braves and are part of the team’s rise to second place on the Island. They too have improved offensively, but also carry heavy defensive roles for their team. The Braves have cut themselves a clear position above the rest of the league, but have yet to prove they are on par with the Cougars.

And that’s where the fun with these four begins.

If the Cougars or Braves are to win the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League championship, they’ll have to go through each other.

“It’s a divisional playoff format because of the expansion teams, so assuming we both get through the first round, we’ll meet in the semifinals,” said Johnston.

Until then, the foursome says it’s not a big deal to work together. All of them were on shift two days prior to the Cougars’ 7-1 drubbing of the Braves on Dec. 20.

“It’s a pretty good deal to work here, because we get our game days off,” Coulter said.

“Around here we’re all buddies. If we play the (Braves), and win, we try not to rub it in too much.”

“When we play each other, it’s kind of like playing your brother,” Johnston said. “If anything it’s more fun – you compete harder.”

Naturally, the conversations at work have their barriers. Injuries are the No. 1 no-go zone, a place neither team wants the other to know about, though it’s blatantly obvious the Braves are hurting right now. There were five midget affiliates in the Braves lineup for the Dec. 20 game.

“We hire these guys because we know they have a strong work ethic to get where they are as junior players,” said Kirby’s store manager Sean Tackaberry, a Cougars alumni from 12 years ago.

The re-aligned VIJHL will feature a wildcard game for the final playoff spot. The last-place team from the North division will play the last-place team from the South division.

As of the holiday break, that meeting seems predetermined as the Kerry Park Islanders versus the Campbell River Storm.

The date is already set for Feb. 17.

VIJHL name All-Star squads

This year’s VIJHL All-Star and prospects games are Jan. 13 in Parksville, hosted by the Oceanside Generals.

Former teammates Travis Oickle and Max Mois will once again suit up on the same team when the two South Division all-stars attend the 2013 Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League All-Star Classic in Parksville on Jan. 13.

Mois was traded last month from the Westshore Wolves to the Saanich Braves, and will represent the latter in the All-Star Classic. Oickle, who holds the distinction of having played for the now-defunct former Westshore Stingers, will represent the expansion Wolves.

Leading the list on the South’s All-Star team is the first-place Victoria Cougars with six players: forwards Brody Coulter, Sam Rice and Mark Walton, defencemen Graham Zagrodney and Jacob Stolz, and goalie Evan Roch. Cougars coach Mark Van Helvoirt will lead the bench.

The Saanich Braves are second with five players, forwards Mois, Ty Jones and Josh Gray, defenceman Garett Kemmler and goalie Tanner McGaw.

Joining Oickle from the Wolves is forward Josh Bloomenthal and defenceman Chris McDonald. Peninsula Panthers players going are forwards Cole Golka and Josh Adkins, and defenceman Cody Breitenstein. Former Panthers star Kyle Peterson leads the trio of Kerry Park Islanders with F Alex Milligan and D Colton Burt.

Full rosters at VIJHL.com.

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