The Nanaimo Buccaneers are new enough where terms like "biggest" and "greatest" do not require much revisionist thinking.
It is safe to say their 3-2 win over the Victoria Cougars (12-1-0-1) on Thursday is one of the biggest in their 14-month Vancouver Island Junior B Hockey League history.
Now the trick is not to look past a hungry last-place Oceanside Generals (2-13-1-0) team that has undergone an overhaul on the ice and in the front office, and is already seeing improved play.
It is the prototypical trap game.
Big, emotional win, followed by a game against a cellar dwelling team.
"Absolutely there is," said Buccaneers head coach Brad Knight of the risk of there being a let down.
"Anybody who gives you a quote saying otherwise is lying."
The Buccaneers (12-2-0-0) have dominated the North Division all season, but had yet to really get that marquee win to legitimize their early season success.
Thursday was just that over the two-time defending champion Cougars, whose only blemish on their record to this point was a 4-3 overtime defeat to the Peninsula Panthers (6-6-2-1) on Oct. 11. They have been doing a lot of the right things as a team in their second season, building off their surprise regular season North Division title in their first campaign.
"We're just a hard working team," said captain Noah Russi. "We're not the oldest team, we only have one 20-year-old skater, so we work hard, we have fast skaters and we just try to play a 60-minute game every night."
However, they know they're not perfect yet, and they have a long way to go until playoffs.
Knight and general manager Glen Smith have not been standing pat, trading defenceman Derian Hamilton to the Comox Valley Glacier Kings (8-8-0-1) for future considerations last week.
The move did two things, it freed up a roster spot for future tinkering, and it delivered a message to the team not to get to complacent or comfortable.
It was heard loud and clear by the players, who responded with the win over the Cougars.
"It was kind of a curveball thrown by the coaches, obviously Derian was our good friend and a good player, but it's hockey," said Russi.
"It's just what happens, I guess things weren't working out. .. but you lose friends in hockey and that's just the way it is.
We've just got to keep going with what we're doing and forget about it."
Knight is also in the process of changing the team's systems, going to a more aggressive, physical style of play.
"We're going to get on the body a little bit more," said Knight. "We're not going to be playing the rope-a-dope style that we have been playing. We've been counting on some explosive opportunities from certain guys and as teams tighten up in their defensive zone, they're not giving the same opportunities we once had in September and early October."
The adjusted Buccaneers will make their debut against the Generals tonight at 7:15 p.m. at the Nanaimo Ice Centre, but Knight is prepared for a motivate Parksville rival.
The Generals have brought in Lou Gravel as their new general manager and former North Island Silvertips head coach Dan Lemmon to take over on the bench.
They have also brought in five new players, defencemen Chel Anderson and Connor McNary, forwards Wyatt Petryshen and Nate Fitzpatrick, and goalie Evgueni Makarski.
In their first game together on Saturday, they beat the Campbell River Storm (8-5-1-1) 5-3, ending a nine-game winless streak.
"From what we've seen on video, they're starting to work very, very hard," said Knight. "Anytime you get a team that's got an unbelievably work ethic, they've got a chance to upset you. We'll have to be prepared and understand that."
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