More than six years later, the Kerry Park Islanders have finally won a game at the Archie Browning Arena.
On Sunday afternoon, for the first time since Oct. 13, 2011, the Isles won a road game against the Victoria Cougars.
“The monkey is off our back,” said Mark Osmond, who hadn’t seen the Isles win at Archie Browning since he bought the team in the fall of 2012. “The curse is over.”
The Isles had defeated the Cougars in Victoria in an exhibition contest on Aug. 29, but Sunday’s 4-1 victory actually counted in the standings.
“There are two or three guys on the team who have been around three years and have never known us beating Victoria,” Osmond pointed out. “It’s in their psyche that they’re a tough team. It’s good to not have that hanging over the team’s head.”
“We played a pretty solid 60 minutes of hockey,” Osmond said. “The guys were relentless.”
Braydon Nelson got the Isles on the board just 25 seconds into the first period, and Brandon Wilson scored shorthanded two minutes later. Wilson’s second of the game was the only goal of the second period. Victoria got one goal back midway through the third, but Jarret Malloch restored the three-goal edge a couple minutes after that.
Even when the Cougars finally got on the board, Osmond felt his team’s lead would hold up, which was a different feeling than he might have had a year ago.
“In years gone by, it would have been, ‘oh, they got a goal; now it’s going to change.’”
The Isles were down to three lines in the third period after Scott Smith was handed a misconduct and Samson McLean got ill, but they held on.
“They played great,” Osmond said. “They were hard on the puck and hard on the body.”
Osmond was impressed with his players from the outset on Sunday.
“I thought the boys were ready to play,” he said. “That was probably why they didn’t play well on Saturday night, they were looking ahead to [Sunday].”
The Isles won on Saturday as well, eking out a 2-1 victory at home against the Saanich Braves, even if Osmond didn’t feel it was their best effort.
The Braves opened the scoring at 8:13 of the first and carried their 1-0 lead into the third. Kerry Park newcomer Avery Nielsen-Webb scored shorthanded at 4:37 of the final frame to tie the score, then helped set up Brandon McClintick’s game winner with 4:22 left to play.
“I didn’t ever think we were going to lose the game,” Osmond said. “I just thought that if we got one goal, we would go on and win it.”
Nielsen-Webb was one of three new additions to the team who contributed to the two victories on the weekend. He attended training camp in the summer, then tried out for a junior A team in Saskatchewan. After being a late cut there, he asked the Isles if he could come back, and was welcomed with open arms.
“He was a difference-maker on Saturday,” Osmond said. “He’s a relentless skater; he’s hard on the puck and he can score, too.”
Also joining the club last week was goalie J.J. Pichette, who impressed in the Cowichan Valley Capitals’ training camp, inspiring the Isles to acquire his rights from the Spokane Braves of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. Pichette made 34 saves to earn the win over Victoria in his Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League debut on Sunday.
Rounding out the group of new additions was defenceman Patrick Keon, who was also a late cut by the Caps, and came to Kerry Park last week from the Port Moody Panthers of the Pacific Junior Hockey League.
“He’s been a big difference on the blueline,” Osmond said. “He’s got a good stick and he’s good positionally.”
The Isles are now 3-1, but have a tough weekend coming up as they take on the two top teams in the North Division. They visit the Campbell River Storm on Friday and host the Nanaimo Buccaneers on Saturday at 6 p.m.
“It should be a very entertaining game,” Osmond said. “If the fans come out, they’ll see some pretty good hockey.”