A sluggish start to the third period cost the Save-On-Foods Oceanside Generals the game Saturday night, spoiling what was otherwise a great regular season home opener.
In this, the first of 10 regular season meetings between the rivals, more than 800 fans turned out at Oceanside Place for the free home opener and were treated to a wide open, fiercely contested game, won by the Nanaimo Bucanneers 6-4.
Nanaimo opened the scoring at 1:46 of the first, and homegrown captain Travis Flug scored for Oceanside to tie it up unassisted at 3:20 with his third of the season. Brodie Smith (with assists to Flug, and Dylan Moore) fed the net at 6:50 for a 2-1 Gens lead, which is how it stood at the first intermission.
Nanaimo scored on a power-play 1:49 into the second and the teams traded rushes, checks and shots on net. Moore (from Smith and Flug), finished off a beautiful three-way passing play at 15:50 to give the Gens a 3-2 lead heading into the final frame.
The Buccaneers were on fast forward to start the third, striking for two goals in seven seconds and three in three-and-a-half minutes, then added a fourth at 13:19 for a 6-3 lead.
Kelyn Opel (from Flug) scored shorthanded for Ocenaside with 3:45 remaining to finish the scoring.
Nanaimo outshot Oceanside 21-8 in the third period and 44-31 on the night.
Local goalie Liam Giroux was between the pipes for Oceanside.
Not lost on many of the fans Saturday was the fact the game’s two captains are both from Parksville. For the Gens, Flug, 19, is off to a torrid start, leading the team by example, playing physical while posting four goals and three assists for seven points in the first two games of the campaign — tied for tops in the league.
Flug’s efforts on Saturday earned him the game’s third-star honours for the second straight night.
On the Bucs’ bench, Noah Russi, who graduated from Ballenas last year, is wearing the captain’s ‘C’. At one point early in the second period, the two former teammates were both sent to the sin bin for roughing.
“I kept getting comments from their bench and stuff so I just played through it,” Russi said when asked what it was like out there, adding “going down 3-2; I knew the boys would bounce back, and wins like that will take us to the championship — I’m happy.”
Russi, 18, was signed by the Generals at the start of last season then dealt to Nanaimo midway through the campaign as part of a trade, and the 5’11” 186 pound d-man said while he enjoyed his time with the Gens, he “couldn’t be happier with the way things worked out. I wasn’t going to play this year,” he said in the tunnel after the game “but I just had too much fun last year so I thought I’d come back. We’re a young team we’ve got a lot of skill and we work hard every night.”
IN HIS POST-GAME interview, Generals head coach and GM Brent Demerais was clearly disappointed with the final score but he was also upbeat about his team and their potential.
“I was definitely happy with the way we played in the first 40 minutes tonight,” he said, adding the start of the third period though “was a slow, sluggish start (for us); probably the first three shifts we weren’t getting the puck out of our zone, winning the battles inside our zone. I think some of the younger guys on our team — we have 13, 17 and 16 year olds — they were looking around a little bit maybe too much. Jitters, there was a lot going on here tonight. But you know what, at the end of the day I really like what I see with this team, and all they’re going to do is get better.”
On the play of his fiery captain Flug, Demerais said “he’s put on about 15 pounds of muscle — he’s taking the bull by the horns and he wants everyone to follow what he does on the ice. He never quits.”
THE GENERALS OPENED their 48-game Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League season in Campbell River Friday, playing the Storm to a 5-4 overtime loss in front of an announced crowd of 850.
The Storm led that one 2-1 after the first and 4-1 after the second, but the Generals rallied for three unanswered goals in the third before coming up short in extras.
Flug led the charge with a hat trick.
The Gens were 0-for-4 with the man advantage, the Storm 1-for-9.
Oceanside generated 29 shots on net in that game, and Giroux stopped 52 of the 57 shots he faced.
Nanaimo improved to 2-0 on the season after beating the Storm 6-4 in their regular season home opener last Thursday in front of an announced crowd of 369, while the Gens sit at 0-1-1.
THREE GAMES ON: The Generals have three games on tap this week. Oceanside is down the road Thursday night for a rematch against the Buccaneers (7:15 p.m. start at the Nanaimo Ice Centre); in Comox Friday to take on the Glacier Kings, and return home Sunday (2:30 p.m. start) against the 1-1 Peninsula Panthers.