Zach Vaillancourt looks for a way around Campbell River Storm defenceman Wyatt Dumont during his debut with the Lake Cowichan Kraken on Sunday night. (Kevin Rothbauer/Gazette)

Zach Vaillancourt looks for a way around Campbell River Storm defenceman Wyatt Dumont during his debut with the Lake Cowichan Kraken on Sunday night. (Kevin Rothbauer/Gazette)

Lake Cowichan Kraken return to action with loss to Storm

Rowan Zapisocki scores three times as Kraken fall to league leaders

After a long holiday break, the Lake Cowichan Kraken returned to action on Sunday night with a 6-3 loss to the Campbell River Storm at the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena.

The team hadn’t played since Dec. 17, and had only a smattering of practices, with one being cancelled due to road conditions as the tragic death of Peninsula Panthers player Grant Gilbertson in a weather-related car accident loomed over the entire Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League.

When the Kraken hit the ice on Sunday, it was apparent they hadn’t skated together much.

“We fell into some bad habits from the start of the season,” head coach Dan Whiteford acknowledged. “I think the effort was there. We’ll get back on the right track again.”

Rowan Zapisocki scored all three Lake Cowichan goals as the Kraken kept pace with the league-leading Storm in the early going. Zapisocki’s third of the night made it 3-3 just 40 seconds into the middle frame, but Campbell River pulled away with a pair of powerplay goals, then added one more goal late in the third.

“Obviously, it wasn’t a coach’s dream in the first period,” Whiteford said. “It was a bit of a track meet, back and forth, but we hung in there. We can hang with anyone in the league if we’re playing the way we should be.”

Josh Robins made 25 saves as the Kraken were outshot 31-22. Zapisocki’s hat trick was his first in the VIJHL, and extended his goal-scoring streak to six games. The 19-year-old rookie has 12 goals in his last 12 games and leads the team with 17 snipes. Carter Anderson and Kellan Brienan each had two assists, and newcomer Sukhraj Narwal registered a helper in his Kraken debut.

Along with Zach Vaillancourt, Narwal was one of two players making their first appearances with the Kraken on Sunday, a day before the junior hockey trade deadline. A point-a-game player with the Port Moody Panthers this season, the 19-year-old Narwal was acquired in late December, while the 17-year-old Vaillancourt came to the Kraken from the Sicamous Eagles last week.

A speedy winger, Vaillancourt showed his cerebral side when Whiteford took him aside to talk about the Storm’s style of play prior to Sunday’s game and Vaillancourt told him he had watched video of the Kraken’s last three or four games against Campbell River in preparation. Narwal brings a physical side and a cannon of a shot that the Kraken plan to make good use of.

“For the most part, both those guys lived up to expectations [on Sunday],” Whiteford commented.

In another deal leading up to the deadline, the Kraken shipped Bryce Burnett to the 100 Mile House Wranglers last week. Whiteford said he still had some irons in the fire on Monday.

“We’re hoping to make some more deals,” he said. “We want to bolster our roster. We’re not looking to subtract; we’re trying to add.”

If the Kraken do make any additions, fans will have to wait a couple of weeks to see the new players on home ice. The Kraken have three road games this week, visiting the Port Alberni Bombers on Wednesday, the Peninsula Panthers on Friday and the Comox Valley Glacier Kings on Saturday. They head to Campbell River next Friday, then return home on Sunday, Jan. 23 against the Oceanside Generals.