Kerry Park Islanders captain Matt Baird swipes at a bouncing puck during last Saturday’s game at Kerry Park Arena, in which the Peninsula Panthers eliminated the Isles from the VIJHL playoffs. (Todd Blumel photo)

Kerry Park Islanders captain Matt Baird swipes at a bouncing puck during last Saturday’s game at Kerry Park Arena, in which the Peninsula Panthers eliminated the Isles from the VIJHL playoffs. (Todd Blumel photo)

Kerry Park Islanders achieved goal of being hard to play against

‘We had lots of players who played the right way’

The Kerry Park Islanders’ goal all season was to be hard to play against in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League postseason, and they did exactly that.

The Isles swept aside the South Division regular-season champion Victoria Cougars in four games, then went to six games against the Peninsula Panthers, who went on to win the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League championship over the Oceanside Generals last weekend.

“We had lots of players who played the game the right way,” Kerry Park head coach Brandon Cox said. “We knew we’d be a tough team to play against in the playoffs.”

The Isles won the opening game against the Panthers before dropping three in a row. They won Game 5 in double overtime, and Game 6 sent into OT as well, with Kerry Park outshooting Peninsula 51-22 and striking a crossbar in overtime before ultimately falling 4-3.

READ MORE: Kerry Park Islanders bounced from VIJHL playoffs

“Sometimes it’s just not your day,” Cox commented. “[The Panthers] are a special team. They had two of the top three scorers [in the regular season], and they unfortunately lost a teammate this year [Grant Gilbertson, who was killed in a car collision in January], and they were playing for him. They were a real motivated group.”

The Isles went 22-26-2 in the regular season to finish fourth in the South Division, beating out the Saanich Predators for the final playoff spot.

“Obviously, in the regular season we were kind of a hard team to play against,” Cox said. “Other teams said that on the road one of the worst places to play was Kerry Park. Sometimes that translates into a lot of penalties, which cost us this year. The officials tend allow a harder style of play in the playoffs, which helped us out.”

The Isles will lose six graduating junior players, including captain Matt Baird, playoff standouts Dylan Parsons and Jackson Egan, and Reid Fitzpatrick, Kirk Whittaker and Cole Sloboda. They could also see several young players move on to junior A or major junior next year: the club’s two leading scorers in the playoffs — Mateo Sjoberg and Logan Walker — are just 18 years old, and 17-year-old Brady Estabrook was a point-a-game player in the regular season and scored the clutch double-overtime goal that pushed the Peninsula series to Game 6. Add to that group 17-year-old goalie Dryden DeMelo, who gave his team a chance to win every game. All of those players have at least a game or two as junior A affiliate players and can look to get a lot more next year.

“We have some really good young players who played hard in the playoffs,” Cox said. “I’ve been getting lots of phone calls about those guys, and they earned it.”

Cox acknowledged the surge of fan support the team received in the playoffs, and hopes that it continues next season.

The Isles and the Lake Cowichan Kraken started rebuilding for the 2022-23 campaign by holding a combined camp at the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena last weekend.

VIJHL