Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
March 4, 2013, Saanich, BC (ISN) – The Saanich Braves used goals from six different players and stellar goaltending from Tanner McGaw to skate to a 6-4 win over the Victoria Cougars on Monday night at Pearkes Arena in Saanich, evening their VIJHL South Division Final playoff series at one game each.
What a difference a day makes. After dropping a 5-1 decision to the Cougars on Sunday afternoon in Game 1, the Braves would use their small home ice surface to their advantage Monday, pressuring the Cougars at every opportunity and making it as tough as possible for their free-wheeling offence to get any traction.
Cougar goaltender Evan Roch (not visible) had a hard time Monday seeing through the screens set in this case by Saanich’s Nick Guerra and Max Mois on an early Braves powerplay (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
The strategy worked well for the Braves and they would jump out to a 1-0 lead just 4:11 into the opening frame when Liam Sproule would pick up a loose puck inside the blueline and rifle one past a screened Evan Roch to put the Braves up 1-0.
In the second period, the Braves would turn the table on the Cougars somewhat, striking early with a pair of powerplay goals, the first by Cole Golka at 2:07 and the second from Josh Gray at 5:22.
Josh Gray swoops in for some high fives from the bench after scoring Saanich’s third goal (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
The Braves would advance that lead to 4-0 just over three minutes later when Nick Guerra would follow up on a Josh Gray rebound and chip another past Roch, silencing the large group of Cougar supporters in attendance.
That silence would not last long however, as just 12 seconds after the Guerra goal, the Cougars went on a powerplay, making quick work of it, with Dane Feeney putting the Cougars on the board just 11 seconds after the puck was dropped.
The Cougar fans would have opportunity to cheer again less than a minute later, as the Braves would take another quick penalty, and the deadly Cougars powerplay would strike again, this time with Brody Coulter putting a point shot past McGaw at the 10:26 mark to cut the lead in half 4-2.
Saanich’s Jordan Groenhyde moves the puck out of his zone Monday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
The Braves would get one of those back before the period ended with a great effort from Max Mois at the 11:19 mark and the Braves took a 5-2 lead into the third.
With most teams in the league, a 5-2 lead would be a comfortable one to have. Not so much with the Cougars, who have an offence that can strike in bunches at any time, but who also have an offence that seems to always be afforded multiple chances on the powerplay, especially at key times in a game.
Such was the case Monday, when a questionable charging call on the Braves Jordan Groenhyde late in the second – who appeared to simply make a nice solid check on a Cougar forward – put the Cougars back on the powerplay to begin the third.
Saanich’s Sam McMullen, Justin Polischuk and the Cougar’s Sam Rice keep an eye on a looming point shot in Monday’s action (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
The gritty Braves would not only kill off the penalty in that case however, but would get a short-handed goal on a partial breakaway from Sam Johnston to go up 6-2.
Again, such a lead against the Cougars is never safe and the Braves would find themselves in more penalty trouble at the 4:57 mark when coincidental penalties to Groenhyde and Sproule put the Cougars on a full, two-minute 5-on-three powerplay.
Saanich’s Shawn McBride makes a move through centre ice during the third period Monday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
The Braves would use great shot-blocking and some big saves from McGaw to stave off that disadvantage – a key factor for them in their win, but they would not be so lucky later in the period when the Cougars, who would enjoy 4 powerplay opportunities in the period – would get a pair of powerplay markers from Feeney, at 14:06 and again 18:27 to make it 6-4 and make the Saanich faithful a bit nervous.
With the multiple powerplay opportunities in the third, the Cougars would throw a total of 23 shots at McGaw in the period, but despite pulling the goaltender for the extra attacker, they would not score again and the Braves would finish with the 6-4 win.
McGaw would finish with 48 saves on 52 shots to earn first star status for the Braves. Ten different Braves would earn points on the evening, with Gray, Mois and Sam McMullen having two-point evenings.
Saanich goaltender Tanner McGaw was able to see around Cougar players such as Brody Coulter, well enough to stop 48 of 52 shots in the Braves 6-4 win Monday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
For the Cougars, Feeney with his 3 goals and 1 assist would lead the way, while VIJHL scoring champion Coulter would finish with a goal and two assists.
Game 3 in the series goes Thursday evening at 7:00 PM back at the Archie Browning Arena in Esquimalt.