One down, 22 to go.
Week one of the VIJHL regular season may not have gone exactly as planned for Oceanside’s Save on Foods Generals, losing their regular season opener 9-0 in Victoria to the Cougars last Thursday, then dropping their home opener 4-2 to the Saanich Braves Saturday night, but the season is long and the young charges are willing to do what it takes to keep improving.
Throw the final score of Saturday’s game out the window and the game-day package was amped as promised.
Local band Leadfoot set the stage when they laid down some high octane beats at the Generals’ tailgate party that afternoon, braving the heat for the cause.
In keeping with the community-owned junior hockey club’s commitment to its grass roots, a dozen or so wide-eyed young players with Oceanside Minor Hockey were part of the big opening night ceremonies, marking the spot where the players emerged, banging their sticks on the ice with much gusto as each player on this year’s Generals’ team was introduced via spotlight in a blacked out arena. Those same youngsters took centre ice in the first intermission for a shoot-out.
Jessie Kelly, 7, served up a soulful version of Amazing Grace then belted out the national anthem and marked the start of another season with the team. Local Save On Foods manager Bruce Brown dropped the opening puck.
At home against the Braves in front of over 700 fans, the Generals played hard but came up short.
Saanich took the crowd out early when they scored 86 seconds into the game. The Generals responded by going to the Saanich net in waves, but Braves’ ‘tender Tanner McGaw was tough to beat.
Oceanside out-shot Saanich 11-5 in the opening frame and 30-29 on the night.
The two teams played to a scoreless tie in the second period until 19:39 when Taylor Gray knotted it up 1-1 off a Luke Tully feed.
The Braves scored at 3:37 and again at 5:55 of the 3rd to go up 3-1, the games’ second star, returning spark-plug Kyle Yamasaki, cut it to 3-2 at 14:04, but that would be as close as they’d get.
Kolding Larson took the loss in net both nights for Oceanside, but Dubyna wasn’t about to throw his returning starter under the bus.
“Not at all. I thought he was good in both games… he wasn’t the reason we lost either of them. He responded after the big loss against Victoria and he bounced back with a strong game — he gave us a chance to win Saturday.”
DOWN ISLAND on Thursday for game one of the regular season, Victoria scored two unanswered goals in the first period, three in the 2nd and four in the 4th. The hosts out-shot Oceanside 38-21. The Generals were 0-for-6 with the man advantage in their first meaningful game of the campaign, and the ‘Cougs 6-for-11.
“Overall I was really happy with the work ethic and competitiveness that the team showed,” said Dubyna. Asked if nerves might have played a part in some of the play Dubyna conceded that with eight rookies playing their first two regular season games it’s bound to happen, “but I think too even the vets, I mean they’re playing with different players on their line.”
Returning forward Luciano Somerville from Port Alberni led by example both games said Dubyna.
“He played hard with a lot of energy,” he said, adding the line of new Generals Connor Enright, Riel Gibson and Joel Issigonis were also consistent.
As for the big opening night presentation, Dubyna said from where they were standing it was great fuel for sure.
“Overall it was an amazing night. Minus the loss everything went perfectly,” Generals’ GM and head of hockey operations Dave Johnston said Monday.
“There was definitely an event at Oceanside Place Saturday night, and that’s exactly our goal, to create that environment on a weekly basis.”
“I think it created an exciting atmosphere for sure,” agreed Dubyna, “And unveiling the new jerseys in front of the community… the guys were proud to be part of it and are looking forward to continuing to create an atmosphere like that.”
“It feels good,” Dubyna said easily when asked how it felt to get his first regular season games under his belt as head coach. “It’s a good first step… it’s the beginning of the process.”
Asked what he told his players at Sunday’s practice Dubyna said “we talked about continuing to focus on getting better every day…
“Tons of energy,” he answered quickly when asked what he liked the first two games. “I really like the chemistry and the energy that we have.”
The Generals are in Campbell River Friday night to face the Storm and return home to ‘The Place Saturday to take on the Comox Valley Glacier Kings. Puck drops at 7:30 p.m.