Victoria Cougars forward Dom Kolbeins celebrates a shorthanded goal against Kerry Park in Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League playoff action last season. The Cougars, who open their regular season at home in Esquimalt on Sept. 7, lost all but five players from last year’s roster to graduation and promotion, including Kolbeins, who is playing at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri this season. Don Denton/Black Press

Victoria Cougars’ system tested this season with just five players back

Junior B hockey season gets underway in Esquimalt on Sept. 7

As a seven-time Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League playoff champion, eight-time regular season champ and 2007 B.C. champion, the Victoria Cougars have a reputation for putting very competitive teams on the ice.

Last year’s Island playoff championship runners-up to Campbell River – the Storm won the super-close series with a 4-3 overtime win in game 7 in Esquimalt – the Cougars had a veteran roster built to challenge for a provincial title.

This season is a different story, as the defending South Division champions are in a rebuilding mode with just five players back from the 2016-17 campaign.

Second-year Cougars head coach Suneil Karod, whose squad hits the ice at Archie Browning Sports Centre for their home and season opener Thursday (Sept. 7 at 7 p.m.) against the Comox Valley Glacier Kings, knows he’ll have his work cut out for him. He likes the initial look of the team.

“I think we’ll be deep up front. We might not have as much top-end talent as we’ve had in the past, but we’ll have four solid lines,” he said.

The returning forwards are Akila Sato-Gaudreau (17 goals, 17 assists last season), Kyle Wade (9-7) and Liam Kinshella (2-2), while defencemen Shane Kime (0-10) and Carl Ewert (0-6) are back on the blueline.

More players might have been back, but four former Cougars are expected to stick with Junior A clubs this season, Karod said, which is the rate of progression the Victoria club wants to see.

“That’s kind of a change I’ve made since taking over last year, we want to be a little bit younger and develop players for Junior A,” he said, noting last year’s team had a veteran forward group but all rookie defencemen. “It’s nice to win a championship and that kind of stuff, but it’s also important to move guys off to the next level.”

While the newcomers come from various organizations and are gradually learning “Cougars hockey,” Karod said, one key acquisition is goaltender Patrick Ostermann. He’s a 20-year-old veteran of the Kootenay International Junior B League who played in Creston last season and was signed to give Victoria a number 1 starter. “We brought Connor [McKillop] in as a local backup, to kind of learn from [Ostermann] and gain experience.”

The returnees are being counted upon to instill in the new players the work ethic and expectations involved with being part of this successful organization. Kinshella, who has been named team captain, will be among those leaders.

“He knows how to be a Cougar, he’s a good Cougar, even in his personal life,” Karod said. “As captain you act as an extension of the coaches, especially when they aren’t in the room.”

Sato-Gaudreau, Wade and Ewart will be among the assistant captains this season, a role the Cougars coaches try to move around to give more players a chance to lead.

That leadership and the ability to pick a team up has become even more important in recent years in the VIJHL, as the parity has grown.

“In our league there’s no easy games, no nights off,” Karod said. “Every game is a battle and a struggle, which is better for our league … Any team in this league, any time you write them off, that’s when you get burned.”

Looking around the South Division, Westshore should have most of last year’s roster back this season, while Kerry Park, which edged the Wolves for third place last season, has more than half returning. On the other hand, Saanich (second last year), Peninsula (fifth) and the Cougars have each seen a lot of turnover.

Following the home opener, the Cougars head up to Courtenay on Sept. 9 to play the back end of their home-and-home series against the Kings.

Just Posted

LETTERS: Sooke preschool celebrates 30th anniversary

Kingfisher Preschool to hold anniversary event May 26

High speed internet coming to remote CRD areas

Ottawa to invest $34 million to build 3.5 million metres of subsea fibre optic cable in B.C.

Affordable housing organization seeks to build in Sooke

Habitat for Humanity hopes to build cluster of townhouses at 2008 Murray Road

Council re-tenders Murray Road staircase project

Project could be delayed months

Upgrades to Millstream overpass to begin Feb. 1

Project includes addition of left hand turn lane onto highway to Victoria

WATCH: Giant waves smash Ucluelet’s Amphitrite Point

Folks made their way to Ucluelet’s Amphitrite Point Lighthouse on Thursday, Jan.… Continue reading

Las Vegas shooter acted alone, exact motive still undetermined: Sheriff

Stephen Paddock was behind the gunfire that killed 58 people including two Canadians

Botox, bomb shelters, and the blues: one year into Trump presidency

A look into life in Washington since Trump’s inauguration

Christopher Garnier appealing murder conviction in death of off-duty cop

Jury found Garnier guilty in December, rejecting his claim she died accidentally during rough sex

Transportation watchdog must revisit air passenger obesity complaint

Canadian Transportation Agency must take new look at Gabor Lukacs’ complaint against Delta Air Lines

Gas plants verdict coming down today; ex-premier’s top aides to learn fate

Verdict to be delivered on senior staff to former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty

WestJet appeals lost bid to scrap harassment lawsuit

Airline argues judge was wrong to have dismissed the company’s application to strike the legal action

Can U.S. border guards search your phone? Yes, and here’s how

Secretary of homeland security explains a new policy that let’s border guards check phones

‘Beautiful writer’ Nancy Richler dies of cancer in Vancouver hospital

Montreal-born author spent most of her adult life in B.C. as a fiction writer and novelist

Most Read