Twelve months later, the Victoria Cougars can breath easy.
The Cougars won the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League championship with a 5-2 win over the Peninsula Panthers at Panorama Recreation Centre on Saturday (March 24).
Immediately after the Cougars raised the Brent Patterson Memorial trophy, the team and its fans breathed a collective sigh of relief.
It was a cathartic release from the weight of losing the 2011 final to the Panthers. Redemption for blowing last year’s 3-0 lead in the VIJHL final before the Panthers won four straight.
“Peninsula’s a good team, but we had extra motivation from last year,” Cougars coach mark Van Helvoirt said. “We were able to block it out this year, but it was always in the back of the mind.”
That old haunting feeling was given undeserving consideration when the Cougars went up 3-0 in the series, despite outscoring the Panthers 19-2 in the first three games, including two shutouts.
When the Panthers went up 1-0, and then 2-1 in the first period of Game 4 on Saturday, Van Helvoirt immediately shook things up by pulling starting goalie Bryce Halverson, replacing him with Evan Roch.
“Halverson didn’t do anything wrong, I just thought we were a bit stale,” Van Helvoirt said.
“Roch was great in Game 3 with a shutout, so we didn’t hesitate to go back to him. It was a bit of a bold move and it paid off.”
Bold, because if Roch gave up a goal or two, it would have given the Panthers the momentum at the exact same point as 2011.
But Roch was perfect, stopping all 21 shots he faced while earning the win. In fact, the “so-called backup” finished the series without giving up a goal in all five periods he played, stopping all 26 shots as the Cougars won 3-0 in Game 3 on Friday.
Mark Walton and Nathan Chen-Mack were clutch in keeping the Cougars in Game 4. Cole Glover scored first to put the Panthers up 1-0. Walton scored from Chen-Mack to tie it at 1-1. When Trevor Yee put the Panthers back in the lead, Walton and Chen-Mack retaliated again.
It was the first of four straight Cougars’ goals, as Steve Axford, Colin Minardi and Graham Zagrodney scored to make it 5-2.
The league voted Cougars forward Sam Rice and Panthers defenceman and captain Jake Bryan as the respective playoff MVPs.
“Rice had a tremendous run, offensively and defensively,” Van Helvoirt said. “So did his linemate Steven Axford, whose leadership was unbelievable.
“This is an accumulation of seven months of hard work. You don’t win a championship, you earn it, and this is well deserved by the group.”
The Cougars return to the Cyclone Taylor Cup, provincial junior B championship for the first time since finishing third in 2008. This year’s tournament is in Abbotsford from April 12 to 15. The host Abbotsford Pilots and Delta Ice Hawks have qualified to represent the Pacific International Junior Hockey League. Van Helvoirt plans to scout the Ice Hawks and Pilots this weekend as they duel in the PIJHL final.
The last remaining team to qualify is the winner of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, which is down to the Kelowna Chiefs and Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
Cougars trophy case
It’s the fourth Brent Patterson Memorial Trophy for the current Cougars franchise, which was reincarnated in 1998 from the ashes of the Esquimalt Buccaneers and 1960s Nixon Trucking Cougars.