Patchwork Braves Trying to Find Their Way to VIJHL Playoffs

Saanich Braves full color logo

Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

January 23, 2013, Saanich, BC (ISN) – The Saanich Braves dropped their sixth decision in a row Wednesday night, falling to the Peninsula Panthers 6-3 in Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League action at Pearkes Arena in Saanich.

If the Saanich Braves were a battleship, they would be one right now that is listing badly, having suffered a number of direct hits, from many different sources, trying to make their way safely into the port known as the VIJHL post-season, where perhaps they can get repaired and live on to fight another day in the new season that is the playoffs.

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Braves forward Scott Henderson prepares to block a Panther shot during Wednesday’s action (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

The war that has been the 2013-2014 regular season, has not been a kind one for the Braves. Beset by injuries, suspensions and general overall bad karma, the young Braves headed into Friday night’s game against the Panthers with a nine point lead over the Oceanside Generals for the last playoff spot in the nine team league, and with both teams having eight games remaining to play.

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Saanich defensman Jordan Groenhyde carries the puck out of his zone Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

The Braves however, who have recently suffered the loss of many key players, for many different reasons, also headed into Wednesday’s game sporting a five game losing streak, one in which they have been outscored by their opponents 39-6.

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With the departure of Sam mcMullen, defensman Liam Sproule takes over as the Braves Captain for the remainder of the season (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

The January battles for the Braves have come along with a series of roster changes that have kept Head Coach Brad Cook scrambling to ice a full squad every night and that have caused a lot of head scratching amongst fans, who by now are wondering if there is any other possible way to lose players from the roster.

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Peninsula’s Cody Breitenstein would have a pair of assists for the Panthers on Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

After a promising start to the new year with a 4-3 win over Kerry Park on January 3rd, the Braves were beaten soundly by Westshore 10-2 on January 5th, a game in which goaltender Matt Rud – the only goalie on the Braves line-up card that night – gave up all 10 goals. Shortly after that game and just before the January 10th trading deadline, Rud announced his intentions to quit the team, choosing to focus on his basketball career and leaving the Braves with Jordan Werezak as their only rostered goalie.

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Peninsula’s Matthew Sheeran would have a goal and an assist against the Braves Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

Also at the deadline, the Braves traded leading scorers and veteran leaders Sam McMullen and Garett Kemmler to the Victoria Cougars. While some may have shook their head at this move, it was a classy one on the part of the Braves as it gives both veteran players an excellent shot at a VIJHL title. It also brought the Cougar’s Jake Daughtry to the Braves, a player who can easily replace some of that veteran leadership.

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The Panthers Sean Buchanan (55) would lead the way for the Panthers Wednesday with a goal and a pair of assists against the Braves (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

Also in that fateful week, Braves forward Jack Rachwalski tragically learned his older brother had been killed in a house fire in Montreal and he has been out of the lineup since that time in order to deal as needed with family issues surrounding that.

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The newly acquired Jake Daughtry woul score the Braves second goal of the evening on Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

If those roster changes were not enough bad news, in a 6-2 loss to Kerry Park on January 11th, goaltender Werezak joined into a melee at the end of the second period and was served a match penalty, one that saw a suspension come along with it that put him out of the line-up for four games including Wednesday’s game against Peninsula.

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Panther goalie Joey Karrer comes up with a big toe save off the Braves Scott Henderson during third period action Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

With other regulars Cam MacKay, James Sneddon, Wade Bartlett, Fraser Sutherland, Garrett Stankoven and Nyshan Basra also out of the lineup, it is easy to see why the Braves fielded a roster Wednesday that included five affiliate players (APs), including goaltenders Michael Franks (Peninsula) and Cole Maans (Pacific Coast Hockey Academy) who have been filling the gaps in net left by the departure of Rud and the suspension to Werezak.

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Peninsula’s Alex Milligan carries the puck out of his end Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

It was those APs however that stood out Wednesday and gave the Braves their best shot at winning over that six game losing stretch. Forward Mitchell Newman was one of those, scoring the Braves first goal of the game to help them to a 2-1 lead after the first period. 15-year old defenseman Brendan DeJong was another, taking a regular shift on the back-end and looking very comfortable in doing so.

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Call-Up Brendan DeJong – one of five call-ups for the Braves in the game – played a strong game for the Braves on the defensive end Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

Goaltender Franks was yet another, and although he gave up a goal on the first shot he saw, he played well enough to keep the Braves in the game through two periods of play, with the Panthers leading 4-3 after the second. The Panthers came out flying in the third though and would pepper another 16 shots Frank’s way, tallying two more goals and putting the game out of reach.

The Panthers received goals from six different players on the night including Grayson Vickers, Cole Glover, Tate Coughlin, Zack Smith, Sean Buchanan and Matthew Sheeran. Buchanan also added a pair of assists for a three point evening.

For the Braves, in addition to Newman, goal scorers included Daughtry, with his 11th of the season and Sasha Hahn with his 4th.

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Saanich’s Josh Poland (left) and Peninsula’s Tate Coughlin battle for the puck Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

On the positive side of things for the Braves, the three goals is their highest offensive output since that 4-3 win on January 3rd and the three goal deficit is the lowest for the Braves in their six loss span. Yes these are small consolations, but at this point in the season, the Braves will take whatever they can get to build on and move forward.

Next up for the Braves are the Victoria Cougars, who come into Pearkes arena on Friday evening. This will be the first match-up with the Cougars since the trade of McMullen and Kemmler and it will be an odd sight to see them sporting Cougar colours on Saanich home ice.

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Saanich’s Evan Horvath (left) and Peninsula’s Des Bast (right) exchange blows during a third period fight Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

The Braves then close out January with a home-and-home against the struggling Nanaimo Buccaneers, losers of five straight, on January 30th and 31st and then close out the season in February with a pair of games each against Kerry Park (February 7 and 15) and Oceanside (February 8 and 14th).

Christian J. Stewart
Christian is a professional photographer and media professional based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Currently working as the Assistant General Manager for Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Club, a Senior Contributing Editor and photographer at Independent Sports News (ISN) and operating his own freelance photography and media/pr company.