They may have a ways to go to catch the leaders, but the Westshore Wolves have served notice this week that they intend to be taken seriously in the second half of the Vancouver Island Hockey League season.
The Wolves (9-13-2-1) gutted out a 5-4 win over the Island Division leading Victoria Cougars (18-7-0-3) on Thursday night at the Archie Browning Sports Centre for their third consecutive win.
The emotional victory was the Wolves' third straight and came a day after they beat the second-place Saanich Braves 4-3 at The Q Centre in Colwood. Westshore began the week with a 5-3 win over the Oceanside Generals in Parksville last Saturday.
Defenceman Mitch Popp bagged the eventual winner over the Cougars 5:51 into the third period at the Archie Browning Sports Centre, snapping a 4-4 tie. His no-look, 30-foot wrist shot sailed over the right shoulder of Cougars goaltender Anthony Ciurro into the top corner.
"It was a great win, a huge team effort from the guys," said Popp, who has played just four games with the Wolves after spending the first 22 with the Cougars. "It was a huge character game, it was just back and forth. We just found a way to keep pushing, keep going, keep playing. It's a great feeling."
After spotting the Cougars a 2-0 lead in the first, the Wolves roared back to take a 3-2 lead in the second on a goal from Jordan Guiney and a pair from Parker Ellis.
Dom Kolbeins scored on the power play to tie it up for Victoria at the 11:02 mark of the second, but Popp and Joe Gage set up Cameron Coutre for the 4-3 goal less than three minutes later.
Cougars points leader Graydon Hohl beat Wolves netminder Jordan Spandli for his second of the game late in the period to bring the teams even heading into the final frame.
In the third, Spandli and the Wolves did well to withstand the potent Cougars attack, which outshot Westshore 12-4.
"Tonight we were hard to play against again, just like the other night when we played Saanich and when we beat Oceanside up in (Parksville) as well," said Wolves head coach Jackson Penney.
A few factors are coming together to create success for the Wolves of late, he said.
"We're healthy and we're finally being able to play as a team," he said. "It hasn't been easy on us the last little bit. We haven't got a lot of scoring from a lotta guys and I think that's kind of been the problem for us."
He sees the team playing better collectively, which is a must when you're a team without natural goal scorers. "The boys are understanding everything, that you've got to work hard to win games … "For us to be able to win back-to-back games against the two top teams says a lot, but our guys really showed up and contributed."
Westshore solid at the Q Centre
On home ice Wednesday, the Wolves never trailed. They led 2-0 in the second when the Braves (17-6-1-1) got back into the game with a pair of goals in the final two minutes.
A Keegan Durrance goal 3:33 into the third, followed by Guiney's second of the night at the 15:46 mark, gave the Wolves a comfortable lead. The Braves' Dale McCabe tallied at 18:41 to make it close, but the Wolves defence shut the door after that with Saanich goalie Riley Mathieson pulled for an extra attacker.
In Parksville, Coutre and Ellis tallied a goal and two assists each to lead the charge, while Brandon Tutte, Tyler Carpendale and Guiney also scored.
Popp, playing for his fourth team in the past two seasons, likes the vibe around his newest club.
"Everyone works hard every night, no one takes a shift off. It's a great feeling to be a part of a team like that," he said. "It's all about getting better every we hit the ice and we need to take this three-game win streak and just keep pushing and keep getting better. The sky's the limit, we're just going to go as far as we can."
The Wolves are in Mill Bay on Saturday to play Kerry Park, then come home to face the Comox Valley Glacier Kings in a 7 p.m. game next Wednesday (Dec. 7) at The Q Centre.