The Comox Valley Glacier Kings lead the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League semifinal playoff series 3-2 over the Nanaimo Buccaneers thanks in part to the return of regular season leading scorer Tyson Rennie and his three-goal performance Thursday in Nanaimo. Rennie’s return was sooner than expected, after recovering from multiple injuries from a questionable hit at the close of the regular season. His much-anticipated return would not disappoint.
With the series tied 2-2, this game was a pace setter for the series. Right from initial face-off the ‘Kings dominated the play, putting pressure on Nanaimo’s net-minder, Cam Large. The Yetis had a power play within the first 36 seconds of the game but were unable to capitalize on the man advantage. The power play would prove to be the key to opening up the scoring on the ‘Kings second power play when Michael Scobie took a nice feed from Jack Kennelly. Hungry for an offensive contribution, after spending the first eight playoff games on the sidelines, Rennie would satisfy the itch at 12:03 of the opening frame on a feed from Andrew White and Brandon Halls. The Glacier Kings would close out the first period with a two-goal lead.
The second period started out with four-on-four play, opening up the ice for both teams until the Yeti’s penalty expired, sending Sasha Hahn streaking in. Hahn fired a shot that squeaked by Large. The goaltender that had been the albatross around the Yeti’s offensive attack was pulled and replaced with Riley Medves. The goaltender switch would provide some much-needed momentum for the Buccs, and they responded quickly converting a two-on-one play on the penalty kill to a short-handed goal. The remainder of the period would have the teams exchanging power plays but no goals were scored until the 15:24 mark, when defenceman Patrick Croome moved the puck to Jack Kennelly on the rush, who put the puck on net. Rylan Ball buried the puck after crashing the net on the power play. The second period would close in the Yetis’ favour, 4-1.
The third frame started with the Glacier Kings controlling the play. Less than two minutes in, defenceman Calvin Hadley would regroup with the puck. Upon realizing that there were no passing options, Hadley turned on the jets and made a slick move through Nanaimo’s forwards and continued through to split Nanaimo’s defence and complete the end-to-end rush by putting the puck behind Medves. Despite the highlight reel goal, Nanaimo continued to fight and took back momentum from the ‘Kings. At the 4:41 mark, Lynden Eddy, who had also recently returned from an injury, scored to narrow the margin, putting the Buccs within three. Moments later Nanaimo continued to capitalize on their momentum with a goal from Will McNamara to make the score 5-3. Startled by Nanaimo’s sudden onslaught the Glacier Kings would reignite with Rennie’s second goal of the game and Kennelly’s third helper. The game would then open up drastically with many rushes and opportunities from both parties, but both goaltenders weathered the storm. At 16:07 the Buccaneers scored their second short-handed goal of the game to once again narrow the margin to two goals. The Buccs pulled their goalie, which had no effect as Rennie would fire the puck into the Bucc’s empty net to cement his hat-trick. Final score was 7-4 in favour of the Kings.
“We did a much better job at making our shots more difficult to stop tonight. Giving the opportunity for the puck to change direction in tight and get screened as best we could,” said Glacier Kings head coach Bill Rotheisler. “Despite the improved net presence we know we can’t neglect the other areas in the game that have made us successful up to this point. We have to make sure we play a tighter game defensively in our next game, while at the same time incorporating the better quality shots we produced tonight.”
The Glacier Kings had an opportunity to close out the series Saturday night when they returned home for Game 6 of the North Island Division final. Game time is 7:30 p.m. at he Comox Valley Sports Centre. If needed, Game 7 would return to Nanaimo.
The winner faces the Victoria Cougars for the VIJHL championship. The Cougars were regular season champs and posted the best record in B.C. Junior B hockey this season.