The Nanaimo Buccaneers delivered a big message to the rest of the Vancouver Island Junior B Hockey League on Thursday night.
The Buccaneers (12-2-0-0) handed the Victoria Cougars (12-1-0-1) their first regulation loss of the season 3-2 at the Nanaimo Ice Centre, in front of their biggest crowd of the season.
Nick White, Garrett Dunlop and Jordan Levesque scored for the Buccaneers while Ryan Waldhaus made 24 saves for the win.
Mark Walton and Graham Zagrodney scored for the Cougars and Connor Beauchamp made 21 saves.
It was a more than just a win for a team that had gone through a turbulent 24 hours, this was a win for the much maligned North Division.
"We're all in this together, our kids won this for the North Division," said Buccaneers head coach Brad Knight.
"It's to show that Campbel River is good, Comox is good and Parksville is good. We won it for the North, just like the all-star
game last year."
Nanaimo had routed a much perceived North Division for much of the season - save for a single loss to the Campbell River Storm - so it has been difficult to credit them for their dominating start. The Cougars, meanwhile, have dominated the entire league for the last several years.
Victoria got off to a good start in this one as well, as Walton gave them the 1-0 lead at 7:39 of the first.
The teams traded goals in the second period and the game was tied at 2-2 heading into the third period.
Levesque broke the deadlock 30 seconds into the final frame and the Buccaneers held on from there, thanks in large part to strong goaltending from Waldhaus.
"He's undefeated," said Knight. "He's proving himself, and that's what he's got to do each night is he's got to keep proving himself, and he's doing a good job." The Buccaneers were coming off a difficult couple of days.
First they lost to 2-1 to the Westshore Wolves on Wednesday night, then they traded away defenceman Darien Hamilton to the Comox Valley Glacier Kings on Thursday morning for future considerations.
"It was great, because we've made some moves this week and feelings were a little bit hurt, and we didn't play well in Victoria on Wednesday night, so there was a lot riding on this," said Knight.
The trade was made in an effort to free up more ice time for young rookies Kyle MacDonald and Dayton Boutillier, and both played well in the win.
"We're a development club so we made a couple of changes just so we could look around and add the right pieces," said Knight.
"We've got some guys that we wanted to give some more ice time and see if they would respond . . . and for two rookies I thought they played a hell of a game."
Up next for the Buccaneers is the Oceanside Generals on Thursday 7:15 p.m. at the NIC.
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