With a week to heal wounds and regroup after an exciting and physically demanding North Island Division final, the Comox Valley Glacier Kings are set to face off against the Victoria Cougars in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League final.
Victoria is looking to defend the title they won last year, while the Glacier Kings enter the series with the goal of seeing their first championship banner raised in the rafters in over 17 years.
Regular Season Results The Glacier Kings and Cougars only met four times in regular season play, with Victoria taking the regular season series 3-1. However, Victoria lost only three games in regular season play: the Glacier Kings handed them one of those losses in a battle that went to a shootout early in the season.
Although many teams struggled with the Cougars, the meetings between the two playoff finalists were always hard-fought battles, especially at home where penalties were not as much a contributing factor. The Yetis and Cats split the games in the Valley, with one game going to overtime and the other needing an empty net goal to solidify the win for Victoria.
Playoff Comparison Comox Valley and Victoria are both entering the VIJHL final with identical post season records, 8 wins and 2 losses. The Cougars split their losses between two series, while the Glacier Kings swept their first series.
Comox Valley outscored their opponents 22-18 (+4) and while Victoria had lower scoring games 14-10, they had the same result (+4) in their respective division finals.
Goaltending Goaltending is a contributing factor to most teams that make it this far in the post season. Victoria’s Evan Roach led the league during the regular season with a 1.79 GAA, while Comox Valley’s Michael Hails led the North Division, and was fourth overall with a 2.94 GAA, both stellar performances during the regular season. Although both goaltenders respectively lead their divisions again during post season play, this time Hails has taken the top spot in the league with 8 wins, 2.20 GAA and a .911 save percent average, while Roach is third overall with 7 wins, 2.58 GAA and an .897 save percent average.
With the strong play of Hails continuing to get stronger, fans can expect to see him continue to be a big part of any pending success.
Defence During the regular season, the Cougars were the only team under 100 goals against. Those numbers can be deceiving though as Victoria’s exceptionally strong offence over the course of the season relieved much of the pressure on their back end. However, there is no doubt that Victoria has key members on the blue line with the offensive ability of Graham Zagrodney, Jake Stolz and Robert Zadra. Brandon Workun also provides puck moving capability from the back end.
Despite the regular season numbers, it’s no secret that with a series of free agent signings and trades throughout the season, the Glacier Kings have arguably the best defensive corps in Junior B hockey right now. Captain Nicholas Tupper, alternate captain Garrett Halls and former VIJHL captain Patrick
Croome make a sizable solid defensive wall for the ‘Kings that is not short on leadership. The quick stick work and ability to control the play by BCHL veteran Brandon Halls complements the physical presence of the Yetis. Rounding out the defence is the recent exceptional play of 16-year-old Calvin Hadley and the physical, tough to play against presence of Cody Eliason. Max Crawford, who was acquired in a trade with Campbell River earlier this season, has been out of the lineup and could see a return this series.
If there is an outright advantage that these two teams have, it’s definitely in their defence. During the post season, the Cougars have allowed 24 goals against, while the Glacier Kings have allowed 23. In addition to the defence’s ability to keep pucks out of the net during the post season, the Cougars’ defenceman have contributed 4 goals and 33 points, while the Glacier Kings’ defenders contributed 9 goals and 36 points to the offence.
Forwards There is no shortage of offensive power on both of these teams. Victoria led the league offensively with an astonishing 275 goals during the regular season, a staggering 89 goals more than the second most in the league who had 186, which happen to be the Glacier Kings. Some would give the advantage directly to the Cougars; however, when you consider who the Glacier Kings have with scoring ability and the fact that the G-Kings first taste at a full lineup was at the end of the regular season, it is not crazy to see these two areas closer than expected.
Victoria has VIJHL playoffs leading scorer Dane Feeney, VIJHL regular season leading scorer in Brody Coulter and Samuel Rice who was just four points off of the 100-point club this season. In addition, Mark Walton, Nathan Chen-Mack and Ben Kinshella have all been hovering around a point per game in the post season. In fact the above players account for the exact same number of points that the Glacier Kings have produced as a team. However, the effectiveness against a team as deep as the Glacier Kings has yet to be really tested.
Comox Valley is led up front by a dynamic mix of forwards with former defenceman Rylan Ball (14 points), SJHL veteran Jack Kennelly (13 points) as well as Michael Pond (10 points) and NAHL veteran Andrew White (12 points). In addition to the offence, Glacier King veteran Michael Scobie has shined in the playoffs with his two- way play (8 points), and the recent return of Glacier King leading scorer Tyson Rennie has not disappointed, collecting three goals and four points in two games since returning to the lineup.
It will be a matter of which strategy works better. Victoria heavily relies on two lines to do the work for them, while the Glacier Kings rarely show holes in a team that contributes from the top to the bottom of the roster. During the post season, Victoria had the edge with 59 goals for, while 43 goals were scored for the Glacier Kings. Both are more than enough to win games in the post season.
Special Teams (vs. 5-on-5 play) The Glacier Kings may have the advantage when it comes to defence, but the special teams have been the fly in the ointment for the Glacier Kings against the Cougars. The special team’s numbers weren’t so special during the regular season, making some of the games seem not as close as they were. Special teams made such a difference, in fact, that if all power plays and penalties were taken away from both teams and only 5-on-5 goals were counted, then the Glacier Kings would have actually won their season series 2-1-1. Both teams scored nine even-strength goals against each other in the series.
During the four games that the two teams faced off against each other in the regular season, Victoria went an overly impressive 13-for-25 on the power play, converting 52 per cent of the time. Comox Valley had 10 less man advantages then their southern counterpart, but had 11 less goals, going 2-for-15, converting a mere 13 per cent of their power plays. Recently, the Glacier Kings have been getting praise for their power play, and especially their stingy penalty kill. But will it be enough to take an advantage, with the man advantage?
This Junior B series is unique to others across our province, in that both teams will advance to the coveted Cyclone Taylor Cup. If the Glacier Kings win, they already have a bye as host team, so the Victoria Cougars will be first runners-up and advance to the tournament as well.
Breaking down teams, stats, players, systems and performances is math and science. It doesn’t take into account the heart displayed in playoff hockey. What are you willing to sacrifice to win? What is more important, the crest on the front or the name on the back? These questions will be answered over the next several games. Regardless of which side of the rink you sit on, fans of both teams can expect gritty, hard-fought, exciting hockey that will have them on the edge of their seat and cheering on the best the VIJHL has to offer in the post season.
– Comox Valley Glacier Kings