Kraken AP Kyler Smith, who recorded a hat trick against the Buccaneers last Thursday, skates around a Nanaimo defender during Sunday night’s game at the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena. (Kevin Rothbauer/Gazette)

Kraken AP Kyler Smith, who recorded a hat trick against the Buccaneers last Thursday, skates around a Nanaimo defender during Sunday night’s game at the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena. (Kevin Rothbauer/Gazette)

Lake Cowichan Kraken elevate game in loss to Cougars, earn 2 wins

Best game of the week comes against South Division leaders

The Lake Cowichan Kraken won two out of three games last week, but in the view of head coach Dan Whiteford, the loss was probably his team’s best performance.

The Kraken got a pair of wins over the Nanaimo Buccaneers, who have the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League’s worst record, but it was a 5-4 loss to the South Division-leading Victoria Cougars at home on Friday that stood out for the bench boss.

“Overall, I liked the way we played against Victoria,” Whiteford said. “We had a lot of chances; I thought we should have had a better outcome. We didn’t play well in the first period, so we had to refocus on the things that made us successful.”

The Kraken trailed 3-2 after the first period, but made it 3-3 in the third. The Cougars went up 5-3 in the third before Zach Vaillancourt scored his second of the night with just over a minute and a half left to play.

“You never like losing,” Whiteford said. “But it’s always good to take positives out of it.”

Vaillancourt’s two goals gave him seven points in his first seven games with the Kraken. Dallas Brown had a goal and an assist, Mitchell Billings also scored, and Rowan Zapisocki and Kellan Brienan each had a pair of assists. Brendan Wilson made 37 saves as the Kraken were outshot 42-19.

The loss to Victoria was sandwiched between two wins over Nanaimo. Last Thursday, AP Kyler Smith scored a hat trick in the third period of his second VIJHL game as the Kraken downed the Bucs 7-1.

Nanaimo had the only goal of the first period, but Zapisocki and Richard Bergman put Lake Cowichan in front in the second. Smith scored all three of his goals in the third, capping off the hat trick with a shorthanded effort, and Brienan and Sukhraj Narwal also around the net. Brienan and defenceman Jacob Campbell each had two assists. Josh Robins made 29 stops in goal as the Kraken were outshot 30-28.

The Kraken also sank the Bucs 3-1 at home on Sunday. Brienan opened the scoring late in the first period, and Nanaimo tied things up on a 5-0n-3 powerplay in the final minute of the second. Billings put the Kraken back in front in the third with two goals, including a shorthanded effort. Wilson was back in net on Sunday, stopping 22 of 23 shots as the Kraken peppered the Nanaimo net with 44 shots.

Last Tuesday, the Kraken played a rare midweek afternoon game against the Campbell River Storm in Courtenay to make up for a postponed matchup from last week. The Kraken bowed to the league leaders 9-3. Zapisocki scored twice, Bergman had the other goal, and Vaillancourt finished with two assists. Jake Hebert went the distance in goal and stopped 45 of 54 shots, while the Kraken had 18 shots on the Campbell River net.

The Kraken are now fourth in the North Division and 11 points out of a top-three finish and guaranteed playoff berth. However, they sit second in the race for the two wildcard spots: four points back of the Kerry Park Islanders and five ahead of the Port Alberni Bombers. Both the Kraken and Bombers have two games in hand on the Isles.

The busy stretch for the Kraken will get busier this week, with four games in the next six days. They visit the Westshore Wolves on Thursday, play host to the Oceanside Generals on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 5:30 p.m., and visit the Kerry Park Islanders on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

Whiteford likes how the busy schedule is setting his players up for the playoffs, when games are often played every second day.

“It’s a bit of a mini-run with this playoff push,” he said. “It’s more like how the playoffs are going to be. It’s getting them in that mentality as far as being a playoff-ready team.”

VIJHL