It’s a tale of first versus worst in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League as the front-running Campbell River Storm take on the cellar dwelling Peninsula Panthers in a home-and-home series this weekend.
While the Storm will be gunning for their eleventh win in twelve starts when the teams meet Friday night in Peninsula, the Panthers are just hoping to keep pace with the third-place Saanich Braves in the VIJHL’s South Division.
However, Campbell River head coach Lee Stone says his team isn’t taking anything for granted.
“In this league, at any point of the season, if you don’t bring your ‘A’ game there’s a possibility of losing. I think the way our last game against Kerry Park went, where we didn’t play that well in the last 30 minutes, we’ll be prepared for this weekend. Peninsula isn’t as bad as their record shows. They’re a young, talented, local group of kids that plays hard every game. They’ve been in some tight games lately against good teams – Nanaimo and Victoria for example – so we have to be ready.”
Stone also says the Thanksgiving holiday was a timely break for his squad.
“Thanksgiving came at the perfect time for us. We’re pretty structured and on the ice everyday – there’s certainly a risk of guys burning out, mentally, so I think having three days off was really good for us.”
Newly acquired defenseman Nathan Browne will make his Storm debut this weekend, though it is unsure whether it will be Friday night in Peninsula or Sunday in Campbell River. The 6’2”, 190 lb Browne played Junior A last season for the Trail Smoke Eaters of the BCHL.
“Christmas came a little early for us,” Stone said, “He is exactly what we needed – an experienced left handed defenseman that is really good in his own end and can also contribute offensively. We had a couple things on our wish list – a steady two-way centre down the middle and that was taken care of when we got Connor Logan (from Peninsula) earlier this month. The other was a veteran, left-handed D-man, which we have now in Browne, so the last two weeks have been good.”
The 20-year-old Browne will likely play with Storm captain Jordan Rauser, giving the locals a solid shut-down pair to match against the opposition’s top lines, and also to help kill penalties.
The Storm is not just the only undefeated team on Vancouver Island. As of this week they are the only unbeaten Junior ‘B’ team in the province after the Osoyoos Coyotes of the KIJHL were beaten for the first time, a 4-3 set back to the Sicamous Eagles last Friday night.
“That’s super exciting,” said Stone, “Obviously our ultimate goal is to win a championship but the longer we can string wins together at the start of the year, the better. We are really focused on having home ice advantage through the entire playoffs, and this streak definitely helps getting us pointed in that direction.”
Friday night’s game in Peninsula starts at 7:30 p.m. Sunday’s rematch in Campbell River is set for 4 p.m. at Rod Brind’Amour Arena.