During the Quality Foods Oceanside Generals awards banquet Friday night, Max Creighton serenaded his teammates with a verse of Randy Newman’s You Got a Friend in Me, from the Toy Story movie soundtrack.
One night later, he proved it.
Creighton scored two goals and assisted on the game-winner as the Generals romped to a 6-1 Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League victory over Kerry Park. Goalie Tanner Douglas had 44 saves and the team’s four age-20 players, who are winding down their junior hockey careers, took a bow before nearly 150 fans on the final night of the VIJHL regular season.
The game was a tune-up for Monday night’s one-game, wild card playoff at Oceanside Place, where the Generals (12-33-1-2) will square off against the Peninsula Panthers (9-36-0-3). The winner advances to a best-of-7 VIJHL quarterfinal series against North Division winner Campbell River.
Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Howie Meeker Arena. All tickets are $5.
“It’s a huge confidence boost, that’s for sure,” Generals head coach Gerry Bickerton said of Saturday’s scoring outburst on the eve of the wild card playoff game. “We’ve been 11 games scoring three goals and under, and we’ve been the second-lowest scoring team in the league. So to come out and put six on the board tonight, especially against an old friend down there in (Islanders goalie Matt) Henwood, it’s a good feeling.”
Oceanside Generals defenseman Ryan Rae-Arthur, rear, blows up Kerry Park’s Caleb Franklin on a third-period hit during the teams’ VIJHL game Saturday at Oceanside Place in Parksville. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS
Henwood began the season as the Generals’ starting netminder before being moved to Campbell River and, eventually, to Kerry Park. He was roughed up for three goals in the second period as the Generals broke open a 1-1 game, and was chased when Caleb Griffin tallied with 10:18 left in the third to complete the scoring.
“It felt loose,” said Creighton, who came into the contest with just four goals on the season. “I felt (Friday) night, having the team bonding, having all the guys there, giving out all the awards, was really positive. We came into the dressing room today and it was a different feeling in there. It felt really up, like we could do it.”
After honouring outgoing juniors Scott Latwat, Blake McCulloch, Bobby Jo Love and Logan Savard, the Generals went out and punished an Islanders team that had been one of the league’s hottest coming into the game. Kerry Park (22-24-1-1) had won four straight and eight of its last nine before Oceanside found its scoring touch even while being outshot 45-39.
Brandon Roberge, the team’s leading scorer, ended a monthlong personal drought with his 20th goal of the season and finished the campaign with 43 points. Creighton assisted on the game-winner, a wraparound by Koby Adams-Loitz at 5:00 of the second period, then took a crossing pass from Landon Dziadyk and blasted a one-timer past Henwood to make it 3-1 at 12:56. Midway through the third Creighton tipped a point shot by Taylor Olson for his second goal, and momentarily appeared to convert a hat trick with another tip of a Ryan Rae-Arthur point blast at 17:02. That one was waved off by the officials for a high stick.
“No, I tipped it about a foot above the net,” Creighton said with a laugh after being asked if he was robbed on the call. “In my head I got (the hat trick), though. It doesn’t matter what the ref does after it goes in.”
Oceanside Generals forward Stratton Pickett stays with the puck as he slides to the ice in front of Kerry Park’s Geoff Lamorre Saturday in Parksville. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS
The four 20-year-olds were awarded the opening shift after a pre-game presentation. McCulloch, acquired at the Jan. 10 trading deadline from the Delta Ice Hawks, got the party started with the game’s opening goal at 3:43 of the first period, off assists from Foster Martin and Stratton Pickett.
Roberge got his 20th goal off a nifty assist from Griffin, who was skating from left to right behind Henwood’s net when he flipped a no-look pass backward to Roberge low in the left circle for a quick tip-in that made it 4-1 at 14:28 of the second.
Roberge returned the favour when he sent a pass from the corner through the crease to Griffin, who tallied on a one-timer from the bottom of the opposite circle and end Henwood’s night.
The 20-year-olds were then sent out for the game’s final shift to loud cheers from the bench.
“That’s what it was all about tonight,” Bickerton said. “This game didn’t mean much for the league standings, but it’s huge for those 20-year-olds. “Now, as you get into playoffs, the coach can’t be Mr. Nice Guy. We’re going for the wins, trying to extend this and make that run.”