For the first time in 11 years the Campbell River Storm are champions of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League.
The torch passed Friday night before a standing-room only crowd at Rod Brind’Amour Arena when the Storm edged the Victoria Cougars 3-2, thus eliminating the three-time defending champs in four straight games.
“There’s no feeling like this,” said jubilant Storm captain Jordan Rauser, “When I joined the team three years ago we had 12 wins and didn’t expect a championship any time soon. The Cougars were tough, they fought tooth and nail. We earned everything we got and that’s why we’re heading to provincials.”
Storm head coach and general manager Lee Stone, who has been instrumental in the team’s amazing turnaround, was also on cloud nine after the victory. He said the passionate Campbell River fans deserve a lot of credit for the organization’s success.
“This is an all-world town,” he said, “Even for the warm-up we had more fans than for any other Junior ‘B’ game I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to explain how much it means having that kind of support. I truly believe turning the program around and putting a winner on the ice had everything to do with people in the stands. There are kids playing here today because I showed them pictures of what this place is like – and they said ‘I want to be part of that.’”
Although Campbell River took the Championship Series 4-0, it was by no means easy. As one Storm volunteer remarked, “That was the closest four game sweep ever. All games decided by one goal.”
The locals got the party started early on Friday night, scoring the opening goal at 2:31 of the first period. Connor Logan broke in on the left wing, faked a pass to Will McNamara, and tucked a quick wrist shot over the shoulder of Cougar’s goaltender Anthony Ciurro.
Gage Colpron made it 2-0 early in the second with a shot that bounced off Victoria defenseman Ryan Buse and fluttered into the net. Linemate Michael Olson upped the lead to 3-0 at 9:46 of the middle frame, stick-handling his way in front of the net and stuffing the puck past Ciurro.
The Cougars, to their credit, made a game of it in the third. PJ Heger scored unassisted at the 5:04 mark, and Victoria was awarded a penalty shot three minutes later when Lane Van de Wetering was hauled down on a breakaway by Kobe Oishi. However, Storm netminder Jesse Michel stood his ground and stopped Van de Wetering on a deke, preserving the two goal lead.
“Honestly, I had no idea what he was going to do,” said Michel, “I just had to watch it all the way, be as patient as I could, and at the last second decided to jump all over him. Thank goodness it worked.”
Victoria’s leading scorer Sam McMullen made it 3-2 in the last minute, snapping in a rebound with an extra attacker on the ice. It was McMullen’s only point of the series after putting up 99 during the regular season.
The Storm bench and the jam-packed stands erupted in frenzied pandemonium as the final seconds ticked off the clock. VIJHL league president Myles Parsons had to wait several minutes as the celebrations continued before awarding the Brent Patterson Memorial Trophy to Storm owners Linda and Kevin Spooner, along with team captain Jordan Rauser.
Storm forward Michael Olson, who scored the winning goals in both Game 3 and 4, said bringing Campbell River a championship is a dream come true.
“We have a great team here,” said the 20-year-old Delta native, “When I first moved to Campbell River last season I didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be the right move. I can’t even describe the feeling right now.”
The Storm will represent the VIJHL at the BC Junior ‘B’ Finals, better known as the Cyclone Taylor Cup. The four team tournament is scheduled for April 3 to 6 at the Mission Leisure Centre.
“It’s nice that we get a bit of a break before The Cyclone Taylor starts,” said Stone, “We’ve got a few players banged up right now who can really use the rest. Not only that, it gives us a chance to re-focus and put in a hard week of practise before we head over there.”
ICE CHIPS: The Storm only lost one home game during regulation time this season. Their overall record, including playoffs, now stands at 51-5-1-4. Jesse Michel and Riley Welyk split the goaltending duties in the Victoria series, each winning twice and allowing just 7 goals against in the four game sweep. Dane Feeney was selected the Storm’s playoff MVP. The former Tyee collected 19 points during the post-season, including 10 goals. Total attendance for Storm home games topped 30,000 during the 2014-15 season.