NANAIMO – It may not have been the Swordsmen’s busiest week, but it may just prove to be one of the most important in the 2018/2019 season.
The Junior B hockey club kicked off November hosting the hottest team in the VIJHL, the Victoria Cougars. The Cougars entered the Thursday, Nov 1 affair having won eight straight games, boasting one of the best offences in the League.
Former Nanaimo Buccaneers Mateo Albinati and Booker Chacalias currently sit one-two in VIJHL scoring. Cougars goaltenders had been dominant through the eight-game winning stretch, rookie Owen Sikkes is second in VIJHL goals against average, and save percentage.
The first 30 seconds of the game saw the Cougars throw a wave of pressure on Buccaneers rookie goaltender, Austin Dendl. He was forced to make four big saves in that span, as Victoria literally set the pace attacking early and often. Dendl made a crucial left pad stop before covering the puck and allowing the Buccaneers to catch their breath.
The Cougars tried to continue to apply offensive pressure, and goaded Trey Watson into a penalty one minute into the first period. Austin Dendl stood his ground and made a couple of saves with Booker Chacalias providing a screen in front. Bucs’ captain Billy Walters also blocked a point shot with his right leg, which set the tone for the Buccaneers. Fans cheered as the intensity from both clubs continued without letup, and a north-south game emerged. Attacks and counter-attacks, long lead feeds and odd-man rushes dominated a thoroughly exciting game.
Bucs’ standout rookie Josh Zary, who is one of the top five in League scoring, salted his 13th goal on a nice passing play from Brendan Rogers and Dawson Wollf to open the scoring.
Less than 3 minutes later, he combined with Brendan Rogers to set up Riley Gannon to give Nanaimo a 2-0 lead. Gannon double-clutched on the shot, and his backhander got past netminder Owen Sikkes.
The two-goal margin evaporated 38-seconds later as the Cougars went on the attack again. Kevan McBean fired a wrister from just inside the blue line that had eyes, making it through several pairs of legs and above Austin Dendl’s glove.
Foster Martin and Mateo Albinati were credited with helpers, and the Cougars appeared reinvigorated midway through the opening period.
The action was unceasing, but both Dendl and Sikkes shut the proverbial doors all the way until the third stanza. Foster Martin was credited with his 4th goal of the season after a perfectly on-edge puck snuck through Austin Dendl 2:28 into the third period. It was perhaps the strangest goal scored this year so far at the Nanaimo Ice Center, but it gave the visitors life – and a tie game.
Unlikely hero and defenseman Lucas Patton scored the prettiest goal of the game. Josh Zary took a defender wide on the left side, then put the puck right into Patton’s wheelhouse. Patton loaded up a wrister that he placed top shelf above Owen Sikkes’ trapper to regain Nanaimo’s lead. The highlight reel goal may well be the reason Lucas was named the Buccaneers’ Player of the Week.
Victoria continued to fire shots on Austin Dendl, and nearly tied the game on a shot from Mateo Albinati. Dendl covered a lot of ice sliding from left to right and just managed to get his right pad flush with the post to deny Albinati. Though there were several Buccaneers who had outstanding games, Dendl was awarded the games’ first star for the home side. He finished the night with 28 saves, not allowing the Cougars’ 2nd goal to break his concentration.
Billy Walters re-established the Buccaneers’ two-goal cushion at the 10:50 point of the third. Tyson McLean’s hustle created chances all night long, and he was finally rewarded, assisting on Walter’s 5th goal. McLean was a spark plug short-handed, pressuring the Victoria defence as they tried to move the puck out of their end of the ice. McLean has recorded at least a point in all but three games with the Buccaneers this season. He has also seen action in the BCHL, being called up by the Surrey Eagles. Bucs President and Owner, Clayton Robinson said, “Tyson’s been on fire for us, he could have been first star tonight. He’s loving life here right now.”
The win has the Buccaneers within 8 points of the North Division leading Campbell River Storm. Nanaimo possesses a whopping four games in hand on Campbell River, who have played 21 games thus far. The Bucs and the Westshore Wolves have played the fewest games so far in the VIJHL at 17 games.
Next up for the Bucs is a visit from the Saanich Braves, who look to add to their 12-4-2-Thursday at 7:15 p.m. at the Pirate Ship.
— Larenzo Jensen is the play-by-play voice of the Nanaimo Buccaneers.