Kerry Park Islanders prepare for playoffs

The Kerry Park Islanders wrapped up the regular season with a busy stretch of three games in three days last week and can now turn their focus to the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League playoffs.

“I’m excited for the kids,” Islanders owner Carl Ollech said. “They’ve worked hard to get here. They all deserve to be in the playoffs.”

With no chance to move up or down in the standings, the Isles opted to mix things up with some different line combinations in their last few games, and while the experiment didn’t yield any wins, it was still beneficial for the team.

“We wanted to see if we could get some different mojo going. It didn’t matter if we won three games of lost three games, we were where we were going to be. You’ve got to see what the chemistry is.”

Head coach James Gaertner, who took over in late November, has done a good job of getting the team to come together, Ollech noted, and that could be a real asset in the postseason.

“I’ve seen teams with super top players eliminated in four games,” the owner said. “It’s about getting that mojo, the players buying in. James has done a wonderful job of getting players to buy in, but he came in halfway through the season. It’s a work in progress.”

Last week, the Isles lost 6-3 on the road against the Victoria Cougars on Thursday and 7-5 on the road against the Saanich Braves on Friday, then fell 4-1 at home against the Nanaimo Buccaneers on Saturday.

On Thursday, the Isles led 2-0 after the first period on goals by Taylor Webb and Rick Takeda but Duncan product Cam LeSergent had two — one shorthanded and one on the powerplay — to tie it for the Cougars in the second. Kirk Whittaker restored the Isles’ lead early in the third before the Cougars scored four unanswered, including one from Duncan product and former Isle Evan Easton, and LeSergent’s hat-trick goal into an empty net. Takeda, Dawson Elzinga and Logan Furkalo all finished with two points for Kerry Park, while LeSergent had five and Easton two for Victoria. Spencer Deakin made 37 saves as Kerry Park was outshot 43-15.

On Friday, the Isles trailed 4-2 after the first period, but outscored the Braves 3-2 in the second to get within a goal. A shorthanded goal in the third capped the win off for Saanich. Elzinga finished with one goal and two assists, Takeda, Parker Bergstrom and Alex Villa each had one goal and one assist, Whittaker also scored, and Furkalo had a pair of helpers. Starter Nick Haisell allowed six goals on 26 shots over 27 minutes of action, and Deakin stopped 19 of 20 shots in 33 minutes of relief.

On Saturday, the Bucs led 1-0 after 20 minutes, but Elzinga evened the score in the middle frame. Nanaimo then scored two within a minute and a half midway through the third, and added an empty-netter. Deakin stopped 44 shots as the Isles were outshot 47-35.

The youngest member of the team, who only recently turned 17, Elzinga has six points in his last three games, bringing his total to 23 in 47 games in his rookie season. Takeda added five points in the last three contests, and Furkalo posted four.

Bergstrom finished as the team’s regular-season leader in goals (22), assists (27), points (49), and penalty minutes (195).

The Isles have been seeded into the North Division for the playoffs due to the Comox Valley Glacier Kings missing out altogether and will face the Oceanside Generals who finished first in the North. The Generals won all four regular-season meetings with Kerry Park.

The Isles’ home games in the first round are tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 26, Sunday, March 1, and Wednesday, March 4.

“It’s gonna be fun,” Ollech said. “The teams will beat each other up pretty good. You never know; there could be a major upset. All the teams in the league are beatable. We’ve just got to play smart hockey.”

VIJHL

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