It wasn’t the end to the season they hoped for, but the Campbell River Storm are determined to come back next year stronger than ever.
The team was chasing a berth in the Cyclone Taylor Cup this season and had just sent the Nanaimo Buccaneers home in the post-season following a tight 4-2 Round 1 series when the announcement came.
The start of their Round 2 series, a North Division Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) final against the Oceanside Generals had been postponed.
That was on March 10. Two days later, the playoffs were suspended indefinitely. With no word from BC Hockey since, the season appears to be over. No club will raise the Cyclone Taylor Cup this season.
But the way it ended has left unfinished business for more than one Storm player.
With this season concluded, the Storm front office is focusing on building the bench for the team’s 2020/21 playoff run.
Over the coming weeks we’ll learn more about who is returning from last season’s regular season north division second place squad.
So far, the returning group includes standout goalie Aaron de Kok, who will be in his final year of eligibility, veteran Storm player Pearce Messer, also in his final year, and defenceman Jackson Dyke, back for his fourth VIJHL season with the Storm.
The first returning player announcement on April 17 featured Messer, a 2000-born right-winger, with the Storm for four seasons. This will be his fifth.
Messer is important to the team both on and off the ice, says Head Coach and General Manager Lee Stone.
“[He’s] a quiet leader that gives back to our community as much or more than any out of town player I’ve had here with the Storm,” he says. “He’s a leader with tremendous experience, plays important minutes and contributes to every part of our team game. We’re thrilled that Pearce is coming back to Campbell River for this twenty-year-old season. We have unfinished business and he is a big part of our plans moving forward.”
In the 2019/20 regular season, Messer earned 21 points in 33 games.
He’s back in North Delta with his family, including younger brother Quinn, who also wore a Storm jersey last season.
Messer said he’s enjoying spending time with his family during the pandemic and has a few art projects on the go.
He’s unsatisfied with how the season ended.
“That was a terrible way for the season to end for us and the fans, but the way it ended doesn’t change our goals,” says Messer. “We want to come in next season, have a big year and ultimately win the Cyclone Taylor Cup.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Dyke. The Storm announced on April 21 that the veteran 19-year-old defender would be coming back to the team next season as well.
Dyke says he’s excited to “play the Storm way” and bring home a championship.
“We have a good group of returning guys that have unfinished business,” he says. “The majority of which have not won a (VIJHL) title and we all want to win that badly.”
In 26 regular-season games with the Storm, Dyke recorded 11 points. He also suited up for his first two BCHL games with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs at the end of last season.
Stone called Dyke “one of the better defencemen in the VIJHL last season” and believes he’ll be taking his game up a notch, especially on the offensive end.
“He’s a vocal leader in the room that isn’t afraid to say what needs to be said,” says Stone. “Willing to pay the price in all situations, Jackson battled through injuries last year and should be 100 per cent healthy for the 2020/21 season.”
Dyke, who calls the Comox Valley home, says he’s looking forward to seeing all the fans at the Brindy on a Friday night.
The team will be backed in net by de Kok.
The 20-year-old goalie is considered by Stone to be one of the top netminder talents the Storm has seen.
“Cookie (de Kok) has been one of, if not the best goalie I’ve had with the Storm here in Campbell River,” says Stone. “We are very lucky he is coming back to lead our team in a year where the goals for our program are very high. He demands the best not only of himself, but those around him and is a leader in the dressing room and on the ice.”
With a 41-11 regular season VIJHL career record, de Kok has a career 2.19 GAA and a .925 SV%.
He’s pushing himself to his very best to help the Storm win.
“Besides the VIJHL and CTC (Cyclone Taylor Cup) titles, a little side goal of mine is to win the VIJHL Goaltender of the Year award again,” he says.
He last won the award in 2019.
Voted the Storm’s MVP for the 2019/20 season, de Kok joined the team midway through the year after a stint with the Weyburn Red Wings in the SJHL.
The end of the season left a sour taste in his mouth.
“I know a lot of other guys do too,” he says. “We all have another year of experience and next year we plan to prove ourselves once again that we are the best team in B.C. by coming home with the gold at CTC.”
The start of the season has not yet been announced, but the Storm appear to be in a strong position to chase their goals, when the league resumes play.