Even as they were truly uniting as a team, the Kerry Park Islanders relied on a couple of brilliant individual efforts to win back-to-back Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League games last weekend.
On Saturday, Riley Windsor stepped up and blocked several shots in overtime before scoring the shootout winner in a 3-2 victory over the Peninsula Panthers. On Sunday, rookie Matt Baird recorded his first VIJHL hat trick to pace the team to a 4-1 win over the Oceanside Generals.
On Saturday, the Isles tied the game with nine seconds left in regulation, then went on to prevail in the first shootout since the league brought back the format for the 2018-19 season.
“It was my first-ever shootout,” said Aaron Spotts, who has coached the Isles since 2015. “You try to be prepared for those, but until it happens, you don’t know how it’s going to go.”
After a scoreless battle for the entire first period and most of the second, Romaeo D’Intino got the Isles on the board first with 2:06 left in the middle frame, only to see the Panthers draw even again 12 seconds before the buzzer sounded. Peninsula went ahead with 2:36 left in the third, but Samson McLean made it 2-2 as the final seconds ticked away in the third.
“We have a real resilient group,” Spotts said. “And we were able to tie it up with less than 10 seconds left.”
The teams battled through five minutes each of four-on-four and three-on-three overtime before the game went to the shootout. The Isles played a good portion of overtime shorthanded, but managed to get through unscathed, thanks in large part to Windsor’s heroics. Each team went through eight shooters in the shootout before Windsor made his way down the wing, faked a shot, then went forehand and shelved the puck.
Not including the shootout, Charles-Olivier Lepage stopped 45 of 47 shots in the Kerry Park net, while Cowichan Valley Minor Hockey product Chris Akerman made 29 saves in the Peninsula net.
“It was a pretty fun night to be a part of,” Spotts said. “The kids obviously enjoyed it, but I think at the end of the night they knew they hadn’t played their best.”
The players came back the next day with one of their best outings this year against the Generals.
“It was a really good 60-minute effort,” Spotts said. “I think we controlled most of the game. The one goal they scored came on kind of a fluky play. The guys battled hard and were rewarded because of the good effort. The thing about this league is that you do have a good chance to win if you play 60 minutes and stick to your game plan.”
After another scoreless first period, the Isles drew first blood when Dawson Blanchette scored on the powerplay just past the five-minute mark of the second. Baird made it 2-0 late in the second, and 3-0 just 54 seconds into the third. The Generals scored their only goal later in the third before Baird completed his hat trick with a powerplay marker at 17:00.
D’Intino and Brandon McClintick each posted two assists, and McLean helped set up Blanchette’s goal to earn a point for the fourth straight game, and team scoring leader Evan Easton also ran his point streak to four games with a helper. Lepage stopped 32 of 33 shots for his fourth win in four appearances.
Spotts was impressed with the way Baird stepped up.
“Obviously, he was really effective for us,” the coach said. “He plays defence for us, but we were down forwards, so he stepped in there. He had a couple of goals on the powerplay. It was a good night for him individually. He worked hard and was rewarded.
“He’s a nice kind of player to have based on the number of injuries we have in this league.”
With two wins in a row and three in their last four games, the Isles are scheduled to visit the Saanich Braves on Friday, then host the Campbell River Storm on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
“We want to make sure we prepare well over the course of the week for two top teams coming in here,” Spotts said.