With a young team that’s chock full of recent midget hockey graduates, Westshore Wolves head coach Jackson Penney can’t help but be pleased with what he’s seen on the ice of late.
“I just think that the boys are starting to understand the league a little bit more. We’re a pretty young team … there’s a learning curve when it comes to playing junior hockey,” he said.
The Wolves recently crafted a six-game winning streak that included three victories over teams above them in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League’s South Division standings. Two of those came over the Saanich Braves and the other was a rare win over the dominant Victoria Cougars on the road in Esquimalt.
“Once we got away from the injury bug that we’ve had for most of the season, we got a full lineup back and a little confidence and you kind of saw exactly what our team is all about. We’re a hard-working team and we’re very difficult to play against,” Penney said.
One of the Wolves’ key injuries was to 5’8” forward Cam Coutre, whose 10 goals place him third in team scoring despite having only played in 17 of the team’s 30 games to date.
Coutre initially went out with a high ankle sprain in the early part of October. He returned for one game on Nov. 2 against the Campbell River Storm – scoring one of Westshore’s goals in a wild 9-7 loss – but reaggravated his injury and wasn’t able to return again until Nov. 26.
“It was pretty frustrating, especially having all of the guys saying ‘we need you back, we want you back,’” Coutre said.
His return for a 5-3 win over the Oceanside Generals co-incided with the team’s recent hot streak, which cooled slightly following losses to the Cougars (3-1) and Nanaimo Buccaneers (4-2) last week.
“I think it’s just (that) everybody buys in,” he said of the team’s strong play of late. “I’m not the most skilled player on our team by any means, but I definitely bring quite a lot of energy and I think it just ramps up everybody else’s game.”
The Victoria native is one of the few Wolves with significant junior hockey experience, having played 37 games with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the B.C. Hockey League over the past two years and a pair of games this year with the Victoria Grizzlies. He knows that on a team that lacks high-end offensive talent – the Wolves have scored 47 and 31 less goals than the Cougars and Braves, respectively – the onus falls on him and a few others to carry the offensive torch.
It’s a responsibility he relishes playing alongside linemates Parker Ellis and Tyler Carpendale.
“We know that we have to score each night … if we’re not producing then a lot of the times our team won’t do a lot,” he said.
Behind that top line, Jordan Guiney, younger brother of the Grizzlies’ Nick, has chipped in 13 goals of his own, an encouraging total for the 17 year old in his first full VIJHL season.
“I feel like my role on the team is definitely to be an offensive guy and to put up points. So I definitely have to step up along with some of the other guys,” he said.
Guiney was also called up to the Grizzlies for a few games earlier this year, giving him an added dose of confidence and allowing him to play with his 20-year-old brother.
“It’s pretty cool to have him on the bench there. He’s always helping me out and giving me tips here and there, but he kind of just treats me as one of his teammates when we’re on the team together and not as a brother,” he said.
Moving forward, Penney believes the team can continue to improve in several areas.
“We’re only getting better because we have a lot of young kids … for us as a coaching staff I’m quite excited about the second half. The kids are eager to work … they’re close, and I think they’re completely gelling, on and off the ice,” he said.
The Wolves host the Peninsula Panthers at The Q Centre tonight (Dec. 21, 7 p.m.) before closing out their pre-Christmas schedule this Friday against the Braves at George Pearkes Arena in Saanich.