Looking back on the 2022-23 VIJHL season, the Campbell River Storm’s record of 34-12-1-1 would be considered, by most, impressive.
The water becomes a little muddy, however, when speaking of the team that finished ahead of their 70 points in the North Island division standings, the Oceanside Generals, and how the Storm fared against them over the season.
The numbers are ugly: 0-5, conceding 29 goals and scoring just 12, and allowing league leading scorer Carter Johnson to rack up 12 points alone in that season series, including a six-point effort in the Generals’ 7-3 victory Feb. 10.
“The Gens are a really good team. They forecheck very well and are accountable on both ends of the ice,” said Storm coach Jordan Rauser. “It was a big goal differential, but some of those games might have been closer than the scoreboard indicated.”
That season series sweep is part of the reason Oceanside finished head and shoulders above the rest in the North Division, and in the league for that matter, finishing 16 points ahead of the Storm in the standings and losing just three times all year.
Fresh off a first round sweep over Port Alberni, Generals general manager Rick Hannibal says the team exudes confidence, and that winning attitude is what is going to help gain an early edge versus a battle-tested Storm squad.
“Coach Lemmon is making sure these kids are ready. That will be our biggest strength,” said Hannibal. “When we played against Campbell River, we were playing some of our best hockey. We just need to keep playing that playoff type of hockey consistently the way we can.”
As for the Storm, they advanced by beating rivals Comox Valley. It was not easy, however; after quickly racing to a three-games-to-none lead, the Storm stumbled to the finish line, losing the next three and falling behind in game seven before prevailing 5-4 in an overtime thriller.
Rauser feels that the grit exhibited by his team in that series will definitely help in the way of adversity.
“If you look back at last year, we were the #1 seed,” said Rauser. “We played Port Alberni and went seven with them, Oceanside had a bit of a tougher series against Comox. It made them a little battle tested and we got swept. We’re looking at this year as a similar situation. They had an easier time against the Bombers; We battled a little adversity, and I think maybe that prepares us for the tight checking, gruelling hockey we’re going to play.”
All eyes will be on Johnson, who led the VIJHL with 103 points this year.
“He’s really talented and very smart,” said Rauser of the Generals star. “Taking sticks and bodies in front he creates a lot of chances for the guys on the ice he’s with. We’ve just got to move our feet and do the little things right. It should bring success for us.”
Puck drop is tonight at 7:15 at Oceanside Place in Parksville.