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The Victoria Cougars took Game 5 of their Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League second-round playoff series against the Nanaimo Buccaneers on Thursday by the score of 8-1.
The Cougars didn’t need a high volume of shots on goal, they just needed opportunity and the Buccaneers offered it to them on a silver platter handing over eight powerplay chances.
The Cougars, not to look a gift horse in the mouth, scored on three of them.
The Cougars now lead the series 3-2.
It wasn’t just the powerplay opportunities that Victoria took advantage of, they scored shorthanded too.
They opened the scoring at 4:56 of the first period. Carl Ewert scored from Booker Chacalias and Grady Birk, to set the tone. Tyler Vanuden then scored shorthanded at 18:56, Ewert and Birk earned assists. At 19:19 – in an attempt to gain momentum – Nanaimo got one back, but that was all they could muster. Vanuden had already scored the game-winner.
Vanuden hails from Fort Frances, ON. The 21-year-old right-shooting left winger has played stints of Junior A hockey with the Brooks Bandits, Alberni Valley Bulldogs and Cowichan Valley Capitals. He has played parts of three years with the Cougars, picking up 47 points in 24 games in 2018-2019 and 51 in 46 games two years ago as an 18-19-year-old.
The Cougars scored four goals during the second period and two more in the third. Vanuden earned the hat-trick by scoring again at 1:19 and again at 8:38 of the second with a powerplay marker. Dawson Heathcote was sitting for two minutes for holding.
Bryce Irwin, Matthew Clark, Foster Martin, and Joshua Martin rounded out the Cougars scoring.
In net, Blake Wood stopped 15 of 21 shots over 40 minutes, while Austin Dendl stopped 6/8 in the third for the Buccaneers.
Owen Sikkes stopped 21 of 22 over 40 minutes for Victoria, while Cam Stevenson getting an opportunity to play in the post-season stopped all eight that he faced.
The Buccaneers went 0/3 on the man advantage, while the Cougars went 3/8.
The series returns to Nanaimo with a 7:30 pm puck drop on Friday. If necessary, they return to Esquimalt’s Archie Browning Arena with a matinee 3:30 pm game start on Sunday.
The winner of the series will go on to play the Cyclone Taylor Cup-hosting Campbell River Storm, the toast of the league finishing the regular season first overall.