The best of the best in B.C. Junior B hockey will face off in Campbell River this week for the annual Cyclone Taylor Cup.
The event brings together the host team – the hometown Storm – along with top teams from the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL), the Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL) and the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL). The quartet of teams will play a round robin tournament, with games starting Thursday.
Regular games will continue through Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday the third- and fourth-place teams will vye for the bronze medal, followed by the top two teams going for gold. As a guide, the Mirror has put together a brief overview of each of the teams.
Campbell River Storm
The VIJHL’s regular season leaders fell short in the finals, but as hosts, their way was already paved to the Cyclone Taylor Cup. Still, they finished 10 points ahead of anyone in the league this season, so even after losing to Victoria in the finals, they have to like their chances, especially with the home ice advantage.
As local hockey fans well know, this year’s Storm displayed a balanced attack. While forward Mike Dyck, with 53 points, was the only Storm player to crack the top 10 among scoring leaders, eight other players tallied at least 10 goals during the season, and the next player on the list, Darren Hards, had nine goals and 16 assists for 25 points in only 20 games, so opposing coaches might have some choices to make when matching lines or defence pairs.
Add to this a well-rounded defence corps, strong goaltending from Aaron de Kok and Jaden Little, and a record-setting goals-against average, and Campbell River fans should feel some optimism heading into the Brind’Amour Arena.
North Vancouver Wolf Pack
North Van earned their title before the other two leagues had wrapped up, as the Pack dispatched the Langley Trappers back on March 20, winning in four straight. This followed 4-1 series wins in the first two rounds over Ridge Meadows and Grandview.
That they’ve only lost two games over three series is no surprise, as they were tied for tops in the PJHL this season with the Delta Ice Hawks. They team also edged out Delta in goal-scoring, notching 203 to 202. The offence is led by Lucas Barker (68 points), Justin Lee (58 points), who won the PJHL’s Sportsmanship Award, and rookies Jacob Fournier and Dominic Davis, who had 51 and 50 points, respectively.
In goal, Niklas Hoem took league honours for the top goalie this year after finishing the season with a goals against average of 1.86, to go with a save percentage of 0.928. Of course, he shared the crease with Spencer Eschyschyn, who posted the third best GAA. The message? The Wolf Pack is not likely to give up many easy goals.
The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League has grown in recent years, with four divisions and 20 teams. When the dust settled following the playoffs, the last team standing was the Revelstoke Grizzlies, who beat the Kimberley Dynamiters.
If the Grizzlies weren’t the best team in the KIJHL this season, they were pretty close. Their 85 points (42 wins, six losses, one OTL) was right behind the Kelowna Chiefs’ 89 points and Kimberley’s 88. On their way to the title, they swept both the Kamloops Storm and 100 Mile House Wranglers before outlasting Kelowna in six games. From there, they faced Kimberley in the finals, defusing the Dynamiters in game five on April 4.
Some of the faces to watch on Revelstoke include goalie Liam McGarva, who was tied for third in GAA with 2.01, Kaeden Patrick (58 points), Cody Flann (55 points), Tommy Bodtker (53 points) and rookie Ethan Schaeffer (51 points). The other teams in the Cyclone Taylor Cup, though, might not want to sleep on defenceman Ullar Wiatzka, who had 28 points in just 28 games on the regular season, but led the team in scoring for its title run, with 18 points in 19 post-season games.
Say what you will, Victoria finished first in the VIJHL’s Southern Division, and 10 points behind Campbell River overall. They scored 21 fewer goals and allowed 28 more than Campbell River, but other than a poor showing in game one of the finals, they had the last laugh over their rivals for the VIJHL title.
Like the Storm, they have plenty of guys that can find the back of the net, most notably Booker Chacalias, who finished with 69 points, good enough for second in league scoring, and Mateo Albinati, who was sidelined with a freak hand injury in December. Still, he finished with 56 points in 38 games, or fifth overall. More importantly, he scored 10 goals during the playoffs and 17 points, one behind Chacalias, so he’s hot right now. Throw in Tyler Vanuden, who was right behind in playoff scoring, despite missing a few games, and the other teams could have their hands full.
As far as the last line of defence, both Cougar goalies, Owen Sikkes and Cam Stephenson, were among the top five in goals against average, and Sikkes was tied for second in save percentage, right behind the Storm’s de Kok. Stephenson actually played more games during the regular season, but Sikkes handled the league finals, shutting out the Storm for a stretch of 158 minutes, so he might get the nod this week.