Saanich Braves full color logo

Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

December 20, 2013, Saanich, BC (ISN) – Grayson Vickers’ goal with 28 seconds remaining in the game, gave the Peninsula Panthers a come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Saanich Braves in VIJHL action Friday night at Pearkes Arena in Saanich.

For the Braves, it was a terribly disappointing loss, especially coming on the heels of a 10-1 thrashing at the hands of the Victoria Cougars on Thursday night. Had the Braves held on for the win against the Panthers, it not only would have erased somewhat the memory of that Thursday game, but would also have sent them into the Christmas break on a positive note with four wins in their past seven games.

IMG 8219
Saanich’s Fraser Sutherland (left) celebrates his first period goal with teammate Quinn Miller (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

Unfortunately however, the Braves will head into the much needed break wondering how they let a 2-0 lead slip from their grasp and wondering if Santa will bring them the magic elixir that they will need to regroup and turn what’s left of their season around.

IMG 8229
Peninsula’s Jackson Skerratt (left) tries to avoid the check of Saanich’s Hunter Atchison during Friday night’s action (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

Prior to Thursday’s game against the Cougars, the Braves looked to have put the memories of a disastrous 0-9 streak in November behind them. They snapped that streak with a thrilling 4-3 OT win over North Division leading Campbell River Storm on the 29th, and after losses to Peninsula and Oceanside, put together back-to-back wins for just the third time this season, defeating Westshore 5-4 in OT on the 11th and then shocking the Victoria Cougars last Friday at Pearkes 2-0, for no doubt the highlight win thus far on the season.

IMG 8244
Saanich defenseman Liam Sproule celebrates his second period goal against Peninsula Friday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

Venturing into Archie Browning Arena on Thursday, it was clear the league-leading Cougars were not going to treat the Braves kindly for that defeat and they scored three in the first, four in the second and another three in the third to cruise to the easy win. The shell-shocked Braves would manage just 14 shots on net for the game, with Josh Poland getting the lone marker for Saanich.

IMG 8199
Saanich’s Hunter Atchison, here battling for the puck on a face-off against Peninsula’s Braeden Pearce, heads into the Christmas break tied for second in Saanich goal scoring with 9 to his credit. He would assist on both Saanich goals Friday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

Rebounding from that loss, the Braves came out strong against the Panthers on Friday and peppered 11 first-period shots at Peninsula starter Joey Karrer who got the nod in the place of an absent Stephen Heslop who was called up to the BCHL Grizzlies. Karrer held his own however and other than a rebound goal from the Braves Fraser Sutherland at the 17:22 mark, he was perfect and kept his team within a goal at period end.

IMG 8319
Peninsula’s Tate Coughlin looks for a way around Saanich defender Wade Bartlett during Friday’s action (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

The Braves would strike early in the second period as Liam Sproule – recently back in the line-up after missing a number of games with a lower body injury, would pounce on a loose puck and slap one past Karrer at the 1:50 mark to put the Braves up 2-0.

Unfortunately however, one of the Braves shortcomings this season has been their lack of killer instinct and the inability to hold leads and to put games away when they have the lead. That would once again be the case, as similar to a November 27th game against the Panthers, where the Brave’s held a 3-1 third-period lead, but lost 5-2, they suffered a similar fate Friday.

IMG 8338
Peninsula’s Cole Glover would earn an assist for the Panthers on Friday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

Zack Smith would get the ball rolling for Peninsula, as he would convert from Cole Glover and AP Grayden Hohl at the 16:07 mark of the second to cut the Braves lead in half.

In the third, the Panthers would tie it on a controversial goal at the 6:49 mark, as Jordan Law would swoop in on net, take a crossing pass and appear to tuck one under Brave’s starter Jordan Werezak. Law reacted immediately as if the puck were in – bringing back memories of Chicago’s Patrick Kane when he seemed to be the only one who knew he scored the 2010 Stanley Cup winning goal – but everyone else in the rink, especially Werezak, who fished the puck out of his gear on the “no goal” side of the red line, never saw the puck go in the net.

IMG 8347
Saanich goaltender Jordan Werezak let’s referee Jordi Davis (not shown) how he feels after a controversial Panther goal on Friday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

Referee Jordi Davis and his linesmen, Jackson Collette and Jeff Green conferred and ultimately awarded the goal to the Panthers, much to the displeasure of Werezak and the rest of the Braves.

With the score now 2-2 and both goalies keeping their teams in the game, the clock wound down toward what looked like certain overtime and at least a single point for the Braves, but one final rush by the Panthers and a mad scramble in front of the Braves net saw Grayson Vickers manage to chip the puck through Werezak and roll slowly over the line with 28 seconds left to give the Panthers the win and snatch that point away from a crushed Braves squad.

IMG 8344
Saanich Captain Sam McMullen heads into the Christmas break leading the team in scoring with 14 goals and 16 assists for 30 points (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

The Braves deserved better on a night on which they outshot the Panthers 35-29, but that just seems to be the way that their puck luck is going this season. Combine that with an offence that all year has struggled to find chemistry and put pucks in the net – just a single Brave, Captain Sam McMullen, is in double figures for goals this season – and a goals against differential of minus 52 (second worst in the league next to Oceanside) and one can understand why the Braves head into the break in last place in the South Division with a record of 10-20-1-1.

IMG 8268
Saanich’s shifty defenceman Garett Kemmler has been a quiet leader on defence for the Braves and sits second in team scoring with 2 goals and 17 assists (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

All is not lost however and if the Braves, who sit just six points behind Kerry Park for 4th in the South, can turn things around and start playing with consistency and a higher compete level from their young players, there is a chance that they could make a solid run in the playoffs. Other than Thursday’s debacle, they have shown they can compete and play with the Cougars, a likely first round playoff opponent, as well as with other top ranked teams in the league.

IMG 8242
Saanich defenceman Jordan Groenhyde provides the Braves with grittyness and veteran leadership on the back-end, something they will need to have success over their final 16 games (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

The Braves will have 16 remaining regular season games to right the ship and get into a groove that will set them up for any possible playoff run. With four of those games against Kerry Park, two against North division basement dwellers Oceanside, and only one remaining against powerhouse Victoria, the Braves should have all the motivation they need to propel themselves to a winning record over those final 16 games and make a go of it.

IMG 8259
Saanich rookie Josh Poland is tied with Hunter Atchison for second place in team goal scoring with 9 and sits 4th in overall team scoring (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

Only time will tell however and first up after the break for the Braves are a pair of tough games against these same Peninsula Panthers, the first on December 27th at Panorama (7:30 start) and a New Year’s Day match up again at Panorama at 4:00 PM on January 1st.