This weekend the Campbell River Storm travel to Cold Lake, Alberta and attempt to do something that no other Vancouver Island team has ever done – win the Keystone Cup.
It’s a daunting task but the Storm has some history on its side.
First off, B.C. teams have dominated the Western Canadian Junior B Finals recently, winning the Keystone three years in a row and five out of the last six times. Secondly, Campbell River is the only VIJHL squad to ever make it to the gold-medal game, losing 3-2 in overtime to the Red Deer Vipers when the tournament was held here in 2006. The locals also won a bronze medal in 1999.
In addition, the Storm is in the midst of an incredible postseason roll. Their record is 16-1 since the playoffs began on Feb. 18, including a four game sweep of the Victoria Cougars in the VIJHL final, and an undefeated showing at the Cyclone Taylor Cup Provincial Championship held earlier this month in Mission.
“It’s been an exceptional run,” concedes Storm head coach and general manager Lee Stone. “We’ve done a really good job this year of just taking one game at a time. Up 2-0 or 3-0 in a series, it was almost irrelevant. The goal always was, ‘let’s win this period, let’s win this game.’
“That’s part of the reason we’ve been able to go 16-1 — with our talent, skill, and work ethic, when we focus on one period at a time we’re pretty hard to beat.”
The Storm opens the six-team Keystone Cup with a pair of games on opening day.
Thursday morning at 11:30 a.m. (10:30 local time), the locals face off against the Saskatchewan Champion Saskatoon Quakers, and then take on the host Cold Lake Ice at 9 that night.
“From what I gather Saskatoon has a couple of real good players,” says Stone. “Forward Vukie Mpofu and defenceman Cody Pettapiece are both high-end Junior ‘B’ guys. Vukie played for Red Deer in the WHL last year as a 17-year-old. That will be a real good challenge for us right off the hop. When we play Cold Lake we’ll have to keep an eye on Devon Hascarl.
He’s a 21-year-old that was very successful in the KIJHL last season.”
The Storm play their third game of the tournament at 2:30 Friday afternoon against the North Edmonton Red Wings, before wrapping up the round-robin portion with a pair of matches on Saturday, at 8:30 a.m. against the Thunder Bay Northern Hawks and at 5:30 p.m. against Manitoba’s Selkirk Fishermen.
The top two teams from round-robin play advance to the gold medal game at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
Storm captain Jordan Rauser admits that’s a lot of hockey in a short period of time, but is optimistic about his team’s chances.
“When you play five games in three days it’s not going to be easy,” he says. “But we’re going to focus on playing our game and not worry about what the other teams are doing. Our speed is our biggest asset so we’ve just got to keep that going — moving the puck down the ice as quickly as possible and creating scoring chances.”
The Keystone will be a homecoming of sorts for rugged Storm forward Reece Costain, who grew up in Alberta.
“I’m looking forward to it,” says the Edmonton native. “We had a couple of provincial games in Cold Lake when I was in minor hockey, so I’m familiar with the rink. It’s not too far from where I grew up, so it will be almost like playing on home turf again.”
Storm players and fans travelling with the team will have a chance to meet a hockey legend during the four-day event. Hall of Fame defenceman Ray Bourque will be in Cold Lake on Friday as a special guest. Bourque played 21 seasons with the Boston Bruins before finishing his career with the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.