The Kerry Park Islanders look to build on their winning ways from the 2016-17 VIJHL season. (Citizen file)

The Kerry Park Islanders look to build on their winning ways from the 2016-17 VIJHL season. (Citizen file)

Isles taking aim at first place this season

Kerry Park wants to build on strides made last year

With their training camp over, the Kerry Park Islanders are looking ahead to a handful of preseason exhibition games, beginning with a home date this Sunday at their home arena.

The Isles took a big step last season, finishing third in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League’s South Division, then reaching the second round of the playoffs where they bowed out to the Victoria Cougars, earning their first postseason win and first win of any sort over the Cougars since 2012 in the process.

Islanders owner Mark Osmond wants to build on last season’s success and thinks he has the players to do it.

“We’re looking to sign one more experienced defenceman and one experienced forward,” he said. “I think we’ll have a chance to do some damage this year. Our goal is to challenge for No. 1, at least in the South. It all depends. If we have a couple or three guys taken by junior A teams, that changes things a bit. We’ll deal with it as it comes.”

The Isles have about half a dozen players from their current roster at junior A camps, including Kayden Peck and Brandon McClintick vying for spots with the Cowichan Valley Capitals. Keenan Eddy, who played junior A hockey in Ontario last year after spending the previous two seasons with the Isles, has returned to Kerry Park this year, but is also trying out for the Caps, and Osmond isn’t counting on getting him back.

“I don’t see a way he doesn’t make the Capitals,” the owner said.

The Isles will have a significant portion of last season’s roster back this year, including most of the defence corps and several key forwards. Among the key additions is Cowichan Valley Minor Hockey product Braydon Nelson, an 18-year-old forward who played 34 games for the Alberni Valley Bulldogs last year after a point-per-game season with Pacific Coast Hockey Academy prep team in 2015-16.

The Isles’ South Division rivals, the Peninsula Panthers, have made ripples this preseason by going to full face shields instead of the visors that are mandated for junior hockey players. They’ll be the only VIJHL team with full face shields this season, as the other eight teams had already bought visors before it came to light that Peninsula was going with full facemasks.

Osmond feels it should be up to one of the larger governing bodies to institute face shields across junior hockey.

“BC Hockey or Hockey Canada have to be the ones mandating it,” he said.

The argument in favour of full shields is that they will protect players from concussions. Osmond believes they will be useful in limiting facial lacerations and damage to teeth and eyes, but doesn’t think they will do much to limit concussions.

“It’s an awesome idea, but it won’t protect against concussions,” he said. “The only thing that will limit concussions is if they clamp down on hits to the head.”

Osmond said he would agree to use them if the VIJHL decided to implement their use, but reiterated that he would prefer a province-wide or national initiative.

“I would vote for it, I guess, if we do it as a league,” he said. “But I would much prefer to have one of the bodies mandate it across junior.”

The Isles will play their lone home preseason game on Sunday when they host the Nanaimo Buccaneers at 5 p.m. Admission is $5.

They visit the Victoria Cougars on Tuesday and Buccaneers on Thursday, then open the regular season against the Westshore Wolves on Sept. 6. Kerry Park’s home opener is against the Panthers on Sept. 9.