Six games and a couple of weekends on Vancouver Island represent a huge opportunity for Powell River Kings to separate themselves from their rivals.
They got off to a great start on the first set with a 2-1 win in Nanaimo on Friday, followed by a 5-2 win over Victoria Grizzlies on Saturday, but had the broom snatched out of their hands for a sweep in a 2-1 loss to Cowichan Capitals.
Still, after the dust settled, the four points and losses from Penticton Vees and Langley Rivermen allowed the Kings to lead the BC Hockey League pack and still have a game in hand.
They started in Nanaimo where two of the top goaltenders in the league, Jayson Argue for the Clippers, who leads the league in wins with 19, and Kings’ Jeff Smith, who leads in every other category, clashed.
Each of them made a number of great saves in a scoreless first period and it wasn’t until 4:29 of the second that Nanaimo’s Luke Sandler worked the puck around both of the Kings’ defencemen to the slot and fired a hard shot past Jeff.
The Clippers’ 1-0 lead looked pretty good as they held it through the second and deep into the third period.
Kings received a powerplay opportunity at 13:29 and Kurt Keats got to the puck in a furious charge on the Nanaimo net at 14:09.
His goal set Nanaimo on its heels temporarily and sniper Matt Scarth took a quick shot from a bad angle that went off a skate and into the Clippers’ net at 16:16.
Both teams had limited powerplay chances but ultimately the Kings scored on theirs while Nanaimo did not and it turned out to be not only a motivator, but the difference.
A very happy team boarded the bus for the short trip to Victoria in a battle for first spot in the division with the Grizzlies.
Kings exploded out of the gate and went up 2-0 after just two minutes on goals by Drew Dorantes and Brendyn Smith.
Grizzlies got one back before the end of the period but in an exchange of goals in the second, including one from Jarryd Leung for the Kings, they still led 3-2 after two periods.
Luke Nogard gave his team a two-goal cushion with a huge solo effort when he knocked big Chris Albertini off the puck, took it to the net and buried it at 16:14 of the final period.
Jeff held the fort in goal with 36 saves and Dorantes got an empty-netter to earn a 5-2 win in a must-win game.
The game wasn’t the cleanest one for the Kings, who went 0-5 on the powerplay, but timely scoring and stellar play from Jeff, the game’s first star, did the job.
The players did not have a lot of time to bask in the glow of the two wins however, because they were scheduled to play Cowichan at 2 pm the next day.
While the Kings were battling for top spot, Cowichan needed to win desperately just to stay ahead of Alberni Valley Bulldogs for the final playoff position.
The Capitals’ focus was evident in the game when they scored the only goal of the first period and added another in the second to grab a 2-0 lead on the tiring Kings.
Capitals’ goaltender Robin Gusse was really sharp in the net and beaten only once, a shot fired off the stick of Dorantes that hit the back bar and came out so quickly that almost everyone missed it.
The shorthanded effort, Dorantes’ fourth of the year at 17:32 of the second period, buoyed the Kings’ hopes of a comeback but despite a ton of pressure and several good chances they couldn’t get the equalizer.
Kings have a chance to avenge the loss when they travel to the island for another three-game weekend.
On Friday, January 24, they are in Cowichan for a rematch. They then travel to Nanaimo on Saturday, January 25, and end up in Alberni Valley on Sunday, January 26.
Kings move up to eighth from 14th in Canadian Junior Hockey League poll.
DIVISION: Island Division
TEAM GP W L T OTL PTS OTW GF GA
Powell River 43 29 10 2 2 62 3 157 105
Victoria 44 28 11 3 2 61 3 155 117
Nanaimo 46 22 22 1 1 46 2 142 132
Cowichan Valley 45 17 26 1 1 36 2 121 155
Alberni Valley 44 13 24 2 5 33 1 123 168