A new head coach guided the Kerry Park Islanders to back-to-back wins over two of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League’s stronger teams, followed by a competitive battle for two periods against another top club.
In their first two contests under new bench boss James Gaertner, the Isles defeated the Nanaimo Buccaneers 5-3 last Thursday and the Victoria Cougars 4-1 on Saturday for their fifth and sixth wins of the season. They matched the Oceanside Generals through two periods on Sunday before finally succumbing to a 5-2 loss.
Gaertner started the year as an assistant to Mitch Heslop, but was officially promoted to head coach last Monday, and the early returns are positive.
“He comes with a lot of structure for the kids on and off the ice,” Islanders owner Carl Ollech said. “He’s a definite asset for that reason.”
Gaertner is in his 15th season coaching hockey, with experience at all levels from minor to junior A, including time with the University of Victoria, Shawnigan Lake School, the B.C. Hockey League’s Victoria Grizzlies and the major midget South Island Royals.
Gaertner got his first test as a head coach in the VIJHL last Thursday when the Isles travelled to Nanaimo to face the Bucs, and Ollech liked what he saw.
“The kids responded really well,” the owner said. “They played a phenomenal game.”
It took Hikaru Kinowaki just 50 seconds to stake the Isles to a 1-0 lead. The Bucs responded shortly before the midway point of the first period, but Dawson Elzinga restored Kerry Park’s margin soon after. Parker Bergstrom scored 26 seconds into the second period, then added a powerplay goal later in the frame. The Bucs managed to score twice in the third, but a goal from Rick Takeda helped preserve the Isles’s two-goal edge. Takeda finished the game with two points, and Riley Windsor had three assists. Spencer Deakin made 36 saves in the Kerry Park net as the Isles were outshot 39-29.
On Saturday, the Isles won again as they paid tribute to Nick Collins, a Kerry Park minor hockey player and volunteer who died in November 2007 at the age of 15 when he was struck by a car. Elzinga, Cory Mater and Taylor Webb scored first-period goals, the latter two coming just 23 seconds apart. After a scoreless second, former Islander Evan Easton got the Cougars on the board in the third, and Bergstrom added an empty-netter late in the game. Mater and Bergstrom both finished with a goal and an assist, and Nick Haisell had 45 saves as the Isles were outshot 45-31.
Playing three games in four days finally caught up to the Isles on Sunday as they played host to the North Division-leading Generals. They held their own through two periods before the Generals pulled away in the third. The teams each scored two powerplay goals in the first period, Kerry Park’s coming from Bergstrom and Alex Villa. The middle frame was a scoreless stalemate, but Oceanside had three unanswered goals in the third. Deakin finished with 37 saves as the Isles were outshot 42-20.
“Playing a third top team in a row, it was a tough battle,” Ollech said. “Put it that way.”
Bergstrom finished Sunday’s game with a goal and an assist, and now has eight points in his last four games, earning VIJHL Player of the Week honours. A junior B rookie who played juvenile hockey last year, Bergstrom leads Kerry Park in all offensive categories with 14 goals, 15 assists and 29 points in 24 games. He also has an abrasive side, as evidenced by his team-high 113 penalty minutes.
The Isles now have a season record of six wins, 18 regulation losses and two overtime losses, putting them fifth in the South Division, five points back of the Saanich Braves. The team will face more tough tests this weekend as they visit the South Division-leading Peninsula Panthers Friday, then host the Campbell River Storm on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.