Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
November 22, 2012, Victoria, BC (ISN) – The Saanich Braves have done what no one else has been able to do in almost a full year, defeating the Victoria Cougars in a regular season VIJHL league game, in regulation time, winning 3-1 at Archie Browning Arena on Thursday evening.
The Cougars, who last lost a VIJHL league game in regulation on December 3, 2011, had gone 22-0-1 this season and 38-0-1 in league play since that date and have looked virtually unstoppable this year, especially on the power play where they have been deadly.
Victoria’s Garrett Brandsma carries the puck up ice during the first period of the Cougar’s 3-1 loss to Saanich on Thursday night (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
It was the Cougar power play that got things going for both the Cougars and the Braves on Thursday night, as the Cougars would strike first at 18:23 of the first with a power play marker from Dane Feeney.
Saanich’s Justin Polischuk sets a screen on Cougar goalie Evan Roch during first period action Thursday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
The Braves would respond to tie things up at the 8:35 mark of the second, also on the Cougars power play, as Sam Johnston would beat the Cougars Graham Zagrodney to a loose puck at centre ice and break in on Cougar goalie Evan Roch, deftly slipping the puck past him for the shorthanded marker.
Sam Johnston’s shorthanded, breakaway goal for Saanich in the second period would tie the game 1-1 (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
At the other end of the ice, the Cougars were peppering Saanich goaltender Tanner McGaw with 19 shots in the period, many of which came on their three power play opportunities, including a 2-man advantage at the 9:32 mark, but the Braves defence and McGaw would shut the door and keep the game knotted at 1-1.
The league’s top two goaltenders, Saanich’s Tanner McGaw (left) and Victoria’s Evan Roch (right) would battle it out Thursday, with McGaw getting the upper hand in the Braves 3-1 win (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Late in the period, the Braves would get an opportunity to turn the tide on the Cougars with a power play marker of their own, as Ty Jones would convert from Justin Polischuk and Josh Gray on just the Braves 5th shot of the period, slipping one through Roch from a sharp angle at the 19:48 mark to put the Braves up 2-1.
Saanich’s Josh Gray (7) would earn an assist on the Brave’s go ahead and game winning goal in the second period (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
The third period would be an evenly played affair, with the Braves playing a disciplined defensive game, allowing the Cougars just 6 shots on goal, despite two power play opportunities.
One of those power play opportunities came at the 18:35 mark and with the utmost confidence in their power play unit, the Cougars chose not to pull Roch for a 6th attacker until well under the final minute remaining in the game.
Victoria’s Brody Coulter, the VIJHL scoring leader, was kept in check all night by Saanich’s Nick Guerra and his teammates in the Braves 3-1 win (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Once the Cougars did get Roch out of the net, it was too little too late, as the Braves were able to clear the zone, with Ty Jones then gaining possession on the fore-check in the Cougar zone and putting the puck into the empty net with 4 seconds remaining to clinch the win.
Saanich’s Brandon Story avoids the check of Victoria’s Robert Zadra behind the Cougar net in third period action Thursday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Braves Head Coach Brad Cook was cautiously positive about the big win, “It always feels good to win on the road and to beat a team that we are chasing in the standings, but at the end of the day though the reality is it is an eight point week, with our home-and-home series, and while getting the first win is great start, it is only as good as our effort tomorrow.”
Saanich’s Ty Jones had 2 of the Braves 3 goals Thursday in the 3-1 win over the Cougars (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
As to the keys to the win, Cook complimented all his players on playing well and doing the right things, “I think the biggest key was that everyone did everything good. No one had to be great, but everyone bought in and and did everything well. No one tried to do too much, everyone bought into the role they have within the system, and we were just good. Tanner [McGaw] made the saves he’s supposed to make, the defense made the passes they need to make, we stayed disciplined and killed penalties well, and that all resulted in a great playoff type win for us.”
Doing what only 2 teams have done in the regular season in almost a full year, the Saanich Braves celebrate a win over the Victoria Cougars on Thursday night (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
For the game, the Cougars outshot the Braves 34-24 with McGaw and his 33 saves earning him the First star honours. Ty Jones, with his 2 goals, notched his 50th point of the year and was named the game’s third star, while Cougar goaltender Roch grabbed second star honours.
The two teams are back at it on Friday night, this time at Pearkes Arena in Saanich. Puck drop is at 6:30 pm.