Islanders forwards Brandon McClintick (centre) and Evan Easton skate in a recent home game at Kerry Park Arena. Easton currently leads the VIJHL in points and McClintick leads the league in assists. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Kerry Park Islanders close in on home-ice advantage

Isles need two points in next three games to lock up high seed

Evan Easton had six points in two games last week, and the Kerry Park Islanders expanded their lead over the Saanich Braves in the battle for home-ice advantage in the upcoming Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League playoffs.

Easton had two goals and one assist in both Kerry Park games, giving him 13 points (five goals and eight assists) on a six-game streak, and a league-leading 63 points (27 goals and 63 assists) on the season.

The Isles, meanwhile, picked up a pair of wins, getting to 75 points on the season, seven more than the Braves. Both teams have three games left in the campaign, with three points up for grabs each time.

The Isles needed a three-goal comeback and a shootout to get past the Nanaimo Buccaneers 4-3 in Nanaimo last Thursday.

“We got off to a bit of a slow start,” Kerry Park head coach Aaron Spotts said. “It took a while to get our legs under us. Rook let in a couple of goals I think he wanted back.

“We battled. It was another resilient effort by the team. We controlled most of the third and overtime. We got some life once we got that first goal and got better as the game went on.”

Nanaimo went up 3-0 with a goal in the first and two in the second, but Brandon McClintick answered back late in the second and Easton scored two goals 24 seconds apart in the third, including one on the powerplay to force overtime, which led to the shootout.

“We’ve been part of a few overtime and shootout games lately,” Spotts commented. “They’re always emotional games and fun to be part of.”

Tanner Tiel was stopped on the Isles’ first attempt but Isaac Leik scored on the second attempt, while Kerry Park goalie Rett Rook stopped all three Nanaimo shooters. Rook also had 23 saves in regulation. AP Parker Klippenstein from Duncan picked up his first VIJHL assist for the Bucs.

On Sunday, Easton opened the scoring late in the first, added another midway through the second, then set up Brandon McClintick’s powerplay marker that made it 3-0. Captain Romaeo D’Intino also scored before the Glacier Kings finally got on the board late in the second, and Dawson Blanchette had one in the third. McClintick added two more helpers to his league-leading total of 41.

The game was sparsely attended as the snow had started to fall earlier in the afternoon, and the atmosphere may have rubbed off on the players.

“It was maybe a tough game for the teams to get up for,” Spotts admitted. “It was a weird-feeling game. There wasn’t a lot of energy. I don’t think we played our best. Obviously we were happy to get a win.”

The Isles can clinch second in the South and fourth in the league with two points in their next three games, and, mathematically at least, could catch the Nanaimo Buccaneers for third place in the league. The teams have the same number of points, but the Bucs have three games in hand.

Most important for the Isles is securing home-ice advantage in the first round.

“We’ve talked about it a lot, and we’ve been pretty good at home all year,” Spotts said. “It’s a rink we feel comfortable in.”

Up next for the Isles is a home-and-home with the Peninsula Panthers. The teams square off at Panorama on Friday then at Kerry Park Arena on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. for the Isles last regular-season home game.

Friday’s game will be part of Rogers Hometown Hockey events in Greater Victoria this weekend.

“It will be a good atmosphere,” Spotts said. “That will be a game to get up for, for sure.”

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