Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart
The Victoria Cougars used a six goal outburst in the second period to move on to an 8-3 victory over the Saanich Braves in VIJHL action Friday evening.
December 16, 2011, Saanich, BC – What a difference a month makes. The last time the Victoria Cougars and Saanich Braves squared off, the Braves emerged with a 4-2 victory that pushed their win streak to seven and saw them go undefeated for the month of November.
Since then, the Braves have been sputtering through December with a 2-3 record prior to Friday night’s game, as a combination of injuries, suspensions and call-ups to the Junior A Grizzlies have left the once consistent Braves line-up with a number of key holes to be filled.
Friday night at Pearkes Arena was no different, as the Braves had four affiliated players in the line-up to face the league-leading, and fully stocked, Cougars.
Victoria’s Jake Nixon leads the celebratory progression to the bench following his first goal of the game Friday evening.
It was clear from the opening face-off that the Cougars were not willing to go down to a third straight defeat at Pearkes Arena, as they came out charging and scored just 30 seconds into the game when Connor Stephens banged home a rebound past Braves starter Tanner McGaw.
The Cougars would add to this lead with just under seven minutes remaining in the period, when Jake Nixon would break in alone and put one past McGaw for the 2-0 lead.
Saanich’s speedy Sheldon Trees would notch a pair of goals in the Brave’s losing effort on Friday.
The Braves regrouped however and with 3:37 remaining, Sheldon Trees took a nice pass from James Kellington and sniped the top corner over Cougar netminder Bryce Halverson and the teams went into the break with the Cougars up 2-1.
During the intermission, the Braves held a brief on-ice ceremony for the players to honour their Moms and billet Moms with roses prior to the Christmas break.
The Saanich Brave Moms were honoured in an on-ice ceremony during the first intermission of Friday night’s game.
Unfortunately for the Braves, the bloom quickly fell off those roses, as the Cougars came out and scored six goals in the first eight minutes of the second period – three of which were on the powerplay – to stun the Saanich supporters.
Victoria’s Steven Axford makes a pass during Friday’s game. Axford would later score the Cougar’s third goal of the game to begin the six goal second period outburst against the Braves.
Leading the way for the Cougars during the onslaught was Chris Bannister with a pair of goals and Jake Nixon, with his second of the game. Steven Axford, Nathan Chen-Mack, and Sam Rice also scored, while Mark Walton added his second and third assists of the night.
Victoria’s Mark Walton leads the charge out of his end in the first period. Walton would finish with three assists in the Cougar’s 8-3 win.
The Cougar’s fifth goal of the game, and third of the period, was enough to chase Saanich’s McGaw from the net in favour of back-up Bowman Rutledge, who, after giving up three goals in the period as well, made some nice saves to stop the bleeding and get the Braves into the break trailing 8-1.
Victoria’s Sam Rice would score one of the Cougar’s six second-period goals in the 8-3 win over the Braves.
In the third period, the Cougar’s put things into shut-down mode and despite late goals by Saanich’s Ty Jones and Trees (with his second), the game was never in doubt and the Cougars cruised easily to their league-leading 23rd win of the season.
Victoria goaltender Bryce Halverson made 17 saves on 20 shots to earn the victory against the Braves on Friday.
Victoria’s Mark Walton and Saanich’s Josh McGladery battle for position in front of Saanich netminder Tanner McGaw during second period action Friday.
Notes: The Braves had two-players up with the Jr. A Grizzlies Friday evening (Connor Krupa and Jaden Schmeisser) and three others out of the line-up with injury. Ty Jone’s goal moved him into a tie for second in league scoring. The league-leading scorer, Victoria’s Brody Coulter, was quiet on the night, with just a single assist to give him 54 points on the year and a 7 point lead over Jones. The Braves and Cougars will face each other again next week on Thursday the 22nd at 7:15 pm at the Archie Browning Sports Centre in Esquimalt.
Victoria’s Josh Wyatt and Saanich’s Ty Jones battle for position off a third period face-off on Friday evening.