Westshore Wolves on the rise in VIJHL

Jackson Penney’s well-travelled hockey career appeared as if it might pull him back to Germany, where he has played extensively. But a deal to coach a German pro club fell through, which has been a big gain for the Westshore Wolves of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League.

There is a lot for junior players to learn from a guy who once scored 53 goals in just 55 games in a WHL season. The former explosive Victoria Cougar and Prince Alberrt Raider WHLer, whose pro career took him from the IHL and ECHL to Germany, has the Wolves (7-5) on a stretch in which they have won seven of their last eight games to overcame a slow start.

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The latest result was a 3-1 victory Wednesday night over the Oceanside Generals (2-8-1) at The Q Centre.

Penney’s current gig as head coach and GM of the Wolves comes after previous stints as coach and GM of the Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL, owner when the Peninsula Panthers won two-consecutive VIJHL championships, and the mid-season replacement head coach last season of the South Island Royals of the B.C. Major Midget League.

“We have 15 rookies and have had our growing pains,” said Penney, about the Wolves.

“But we have really good speed, and now the players are finding their comfort zone.”

Among them is 16-year-old Tanner Sidaway, who is signed to a WHL contract by the Red Deer Rebels. It just so happens the Rebels are in town Friday night to play the Victoria Royals at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. But don’t look for a Sidaway call-up for that game, as the Rebels are reportedly healthy.

Sidaway was a late cut of the Rebels. In any other season, he might have made the roster. But Red Deer is hosting the 2016 Memorial Cup. So bringing along rookies is not a priority in a season in which the Rebels need older, experienced players to make an impact next spring as Memorial Cup hosts.

“I can see [Sidaway] eventually in the WHL,” said Penney.

“He has great speed and competes hard.”

Even though it has found its stride of late, Westshore’s youthfulness was brutally exposed by the older, heavier defending league, B.C. and Western Canadian champion Storm over the weekend as Campbell River halted a six-game Wolves winning streak with a 4-1 victory.

“They were waiting up there to pounce on us,” said Penney.

“Teams like Campbell River (8-2-2) and the Victoria Cougars (7-3-1) are really strong.”

That’s the level to which Penney hopes to eventually lift the Wolves as they grow older.

“Young junior players have to get rid of minor hockey habits,” added Penney.

As the new coach-mentor of the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey Association, Penney is in a position to teach the right things from entry level up to Midget.

Providing a veteran component to counteract the Wolves’ youth movement have been four drop-downs from the Victoria Grizzlies of the B.C. Hockey League — Nathan Gelsinger, Tomba Huddleston, Matteo Giomo and goaltender Chris Smith.

When not on the ice, Penney works for Saanich. He also has his eyes trained on the diamond as he follows the softball career of daughter Ashley Penney, a Canadian junior national team player who is on U.S. collegiate NCAA Div. 1 athletic scholarship at San Jose State.

“With both daughters now in university, it’s given me more time to get back into hockey,” said Penney.

His Wolves have a telling assignment tonight when they swoop across town to play the Cougars at 7 p.m. at Archie Browning Sports Centre.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

Twitter.com/tc_vicsports

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