March 2, 2013, Victoria, BC (ISN) – As expected, the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League South Island Division Finals will pit the Saanich Braves against the Victoria Cougars.
The best-of-seven series is slated to open this Sunday in Esquimalt. Game time at the Archie Browning Sports Centre, located at 1151 Esquimalt Road, is 3:00 p.m.
Victoria and Saanich were ranked 1-2 in the South Island Division standings for the entirety of the regular season. And at one point, the Braves were within striking distance of first place until a slump between Jan. 4-26 left them in a trail of dust.
With 16 games remaining on its 48-game schedule, Saanich trailed the Cougars by only 11 points. But three regulation losses to the Westshore Wolves, two to Victoria, and one each to the Campbell River Storm and Comox Valley Glacier Kings; plus an overtime loss to the Peninsula Panthers during that span left the Braves all of a sudden 25 points back of the leader board.
After finishing the regular season with a record of 45-1-2, the No. 1 ranked Cougars met Peninsula in the first round of the playoffs and eliminated their division rival in five games. Victoria carried over its dominance on special teams from the regular season to the postseason, going 20-for-41 on the power play and 24-for-26 on the penalty kill.
The Cougars outscored Peninsula 35-11 during the five-game set.
Dane Feeney led the offense in the first round, potting four goals and nine assists in five games versus the Panthers. His line mates, Brody Coulter and Sam Rice, combined for 23 points. Mark Walton as well had five goals and seven assists.
Graham Zagrodney, who posted a team high 40 points amongst defensemen, had two goals and five assists in the series – good for an average of 1.4 points per game.
Evan Roch went 3-1 in four playoff starts but will need to improve on his .886 save percentage. 16-year-old Michael Herringer, a 2011 draft pick of the Victoria Royals, has been terrific in his limited role during the postseason. The Comox, B.C. native has posted a miniscule 0.69 goals against average and a .971 S.P.
On the flip side, Saanich brought its 30-14-4 record to the table against Westshore in a first round matchup. Although the Braves won the series in six games, they lost their captain and leading scorer Ty Jones to a lower body injury during Game 1 and is out indefinitely.
Losing Jones will hurt but Saanich still has enough weapons to remain a contender. They displayed their firepower against the Wolves by scoring 24 goals in six games.
Max Mois, who was acquired from Westshore in early December, had six goals and five assists to lead all Braves scorers with 11 playoff points. Their other pride and joy, Cole Golka, who was obtained from Peninsula at the Jan. 10 CJHL trade deadline, is second in team scoring with nine points.
Defenseman Garrett Kemmler recorded four assists in the first round.
Tanner McGaw has been both a workhorse and a model of consistency throughout his junior career and this year is no different from any other for the 20-year-old goaltender. During the regular season, McGaw posted a 2.71 G.A.A. and a .910 S.P. while playing a league high 2,192 minutes. In the playoffs, the former product of the Saanich Minor Hockey Association has a 2.74 G.A.A. and a .910 S.P.
With McGaw receiving the bulk of the playing time, Bowman Rutledge will be hard pressed to see any action.
Victoria took the season series having won seven of eight meetings with the Braves.
Though it may seem that the series was dominated by the Cougars, the fact of the matter is that four games were decided by one goal and two games were settled by two goals. Of the four one-goal games, one went to overtime and another went to a shootout.
And in the shootout win, Ben Kinshella had to score with 1:05 remaining in regulation to send the game to extra time.
The series has been that close.
Saanich has the distinction of being the only team to beat Victoria in regulation during the regular season. Back on Nov. 22, Jones lit the lamp twice which included scoring into an empty net to give the Braves a 3-1 come-from-behind victory.
Coulter, who finished with a league high 118 points during the regular season, leads the Cougars against Saanich with four goals and 13 points. Also finding success versus the Braves are Feeney (5g-6a), Kinshella (5g-5a), and Rice (3g-7a).
Jones netted four goals and added six assists for ten points against Victoria this season. Behind Jones are Josh Gray (2g-3a) and Sam McMullen (1g-2a). Golka (2g-0a), Mois (1g-1a), Kemmler (0g-2a), and Chad Roorda (0g-2a) have each recorded two points apiece.
The Cougars ranked first in the league in defense during the regular season, allowing a league low 96 goals against. Saanich was second after allowing 140 goals to be scored on them.
Goaltending will be key to success in this series. And for both Roch and McGaw, this is the final kick of the can as both goalies are in their final year of junior eligibility.
Roch, who set a VIJHL record for the lowest G.A.A. since 1998, has compiled a 1.60 G.A.A. and a .929 S.P. in eight starts against the Braves. McGaw, who was pulled after two periods in a 7-1 loss back on Dec. 20, has a 3.10 G.A.A. and a .911 S.P. versus Victoria this year.
Each team has scored an empty net goal against one another.
During the regular season, the Cougars outscored Saanich 28-14 including outshooting them 285-183.
Victoria went 11-for-43 on the power play; meanwhile, the Braves went 4-for-39.
Both Saanich and Cougars cleaned up at the VIJHL Awards Ceremony on Feb. 17. Winners included: Coulter (Points Scoring Leader, Most Valuable Player), Walton (Unsung Hero), Jones (Top Forward), Kemmler (Top Defenseman), and McGaw (Top Goaltender).
The winner of the Braves/Victoria series will advance to the VIJHL Finals and meet the victor of the Comox Valley/Nanaimo Buccaneers series.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Victoria – Eliminated Peninsula Panthers 4-1. Saanich – Eliminated Westshore Wolves 4-2
TEAM LEADERS: Victoria – Brody Coulter, 6 goals; Sam Rice, 10 assists; Dane Feeney, 13 points; Robert Zadra, 36 penalty minutes. Saanich – Max Mois, 6 goals; Max Mois, 5 assists; Max Mois, 11 points; Sam Johnston, 13 penalty minutes
GOALTENDERS: Victoria – Evan Roch (2.55 goals against average, .886 save percentage); Michael Herringer (0.69 goals against average, .971 save percentage). Saanich – Tanner McGaw (2.74 goals against average, .910 save percentage); Bowman Rutledge (no appearances)
POWER PLAY: Victoria – 20/41, 48.8 per cent. Saanich – 4/41, 9.8 per cent
PENALTY KILL: Victoria – 24/26, 92.3 per cent. Saanich – 32/37, 86.5 per cent
PAST RESULTS/FUTURE MEETINGS:
Game 2. March 4, 2013. Victoria Cougars @ Saanich Braves
Game 3. March 7, 2013. Saanich Braves @ Victoria Cougars
Game 4. March 8, 2013. Victoria Cougars @ Saanich Braves
Game 5 (if necessary). March 10, 2013. Saanich Braves @ Victoria Cougars
Game 6 (if necessary). March 13, 2013. Victoria Cougars @ Saanich Braves
Game 7 (if necessary). March 14, 2013. Saanich Braves @ Victoria Cougars
HOME/AWAY RECORDS: Victoria – Home, 3-0. Away, 1-1. Saanich – Home, 1-2. Away, 3-0
STREAKS: Victoria, WON 3. Saanich, WON 1