They jolted the Generals, conquered the Glacier Kings and declawed the Cougars.
Now the Campbell River Storm, led by Whistlerite forward Tyler Welsh and defenceman Ryan Grills are whirling into the Cyclone Taylor Cup tournament.
The Storm completed their Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League title run with a 3-2 victory over the Victoria Cougars on March 20, brooming aside the three-time defending champions in four straight one-goal games. Campbell River won 12 of 13 playoff contests with their only loss coming at the hands of the Comox Valley Glacier Kings, who boast Whistler Minor Hockey Association grads in forwards Grant Iles and Jonas Horvath as well as head coach Joey Ewing.
"It was a surreal experience," Grills said. "You go to the rink every day and you put in the work.
"Finally when the buzzer went, it was a big relief off our shoulders to finally win it."
The final was a closer battle than the quick series would suggest, as the Storm managed to find a way to eke out every game over a team that finished just two points ahead of them for first overall in the standings.
"When you think of this league, it's been largely run by the Victoria Cougars and they've had some challenges but no one had been able to dethrone them for a while," Grills said. "To sweep them was a huge accomplishment and it was kind of an unheard-of thing."
Campbell River will be without Welsh, the league's leading rookie scorer in the regular season, the rest of the way. Welsh sustained a separated shoulder in a Game 3 win over the Cougars.
"I was a little disappointed I got injured in the finals," he said. "I've worked so hard, but at the same time, I still got to celebrate with everyone."
After he was an offensive revelation with 75 points in 48 regular season games, Welsh's production pace slowed in the playoffs with two goals and four assists in the 10 games he played. Though the results were different than they were in the regular season, Welsh felt he played a significant role in helping the team win.
"It definitely gets tighter in the playoffs. There are never easy goals," he said. "I was just trying to contribute any way I could, maybe not on the score sheet as much.'
The Storm will now challenge for the Cyclone Taylor Cup, the junior B championship, with a tournament in Mission from April 3 to 6. The hometown Mission City Outlaws and North Vancouver Wolf Pack have already qualified while the Kimberly Dynamiters lead the Kamloops Storm 2-0 in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League final to determine the final team. The winner of that tournament moves on to the Keystone Cup from April 16 to 19 in Cold Lake, Alta.
"Every team has battled the whole season to get there and you can't take any team lightly," Grills said. "You have to have a strong game every time, because one bad game can end up biting you."
This is far from the first playoff rodeo for Welsh and Grills, and the defender knows what his friend can bring to a successful squad. But while his loss is significant, Grills said with the talent in the Campbell River lineup, it's not insurmountable.
"He's always been that guy where if you need a big goal, he's there, or if you need a big penalty to be killed, he's the guy out there," he said. "He's the guy that coaches love to have. . . We'll have to come together as a team to fill his role."
Horvath wraps second year in Saanich
At 18, Evan Horvath was one of the younger players on the Saanich Braves.
It didn't stop him from being one of their leaders, though, as the Whistlerite finished second in team scoring with 30 points, including 15 goals, in 39 games. Saanich's season wrapped in the first round of the VIJHL playoffs as they were eliminated by the Westshore Wolves in six games.
Horvath, who describes himself as an "emotional and fast-paced player", likened himself to pesky Vancouver Canucks forward Alex Burrows and speedy ex-Canuck Michael Grabner. This season, he put up the strong stats even in the face of injury, as he faced troubles with injuries early in the season.
"I was struggling with injury, but I did put up points when I had to," Horvath said. "On top of the Charlie horses, I bruised my MCL and I was battling sickness at the beginning of the year and missed nine games.
"I did play well when I was playing."
In addition to being a leader by example, Horvath was also called upon by head coach Brad Cook to be one in name, too.
"It was the biggest role I'd ever played. I'm still only second year and I was an assistant captain. I had a big leadership role," he said. "I've never been on a team that was so tight."
Cook said it wasn't a hard decision to give Horvath added responsibility as a younger player, especially after seeing him handle a tough season for the Braves in 2013-14 where they won just 11 games.
"He shows the ability to play a well-rounded game, which I think is very important for your leaders," Cook said. "It's pretty hard to put a letter on a jersey for a guy who plays a one-dimensional game.
"He penalty kills, he blocks shots and he definitely has the ability to chip in offensively."
Horvath explained there is extra pressure placed on the leadership group in times of crisis which, after a start where the Braves didn't win until their 10th game of the season, they otherwise managed to avoid.
"We didn't have an unbelievable year, but whenever we did something wrong, we'd lose a couple games and we'd turn around."
Next season, Horvath hopes to move up to the Jr. A British Columbia Hockey League.
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