By Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
The Saanich Braves (11-29-1-1) will look to get back in the win column this week with a pair of games against the struggling Nanaimo Buccaneers (22-17-2-1).
The Braves head into Nanaimo on Thursday night to play a Buccaneers team that has won just one of their last seven games, that being a 4-0 win over Oceanside last Thursday. That win marked the first win in Nanaimo for goaltender Jackson Jane who was acquired by the Bucs from Kerry Park at the trading deadline. Jane has been seeing the bulk of action in the Bucs net since the trade, due to an injury to starter Ryan Waldhaus.
Veteran Jake Daughtry will lead the Braves into action against the Buccaneers this Thursday and Friday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Prior to that, the Bucs last tasted victory back on January 2, with a 7-4 win over Kerry Park.
The Braves of course are facing battles of their own, having dropped seven in a row, and like the Bucs, last winning on January 3rd, also over Kerry Park.
On the plus side however, the Braves put together a solid effort in a 6-3 loss to Peninsula on the 22nd (leading at one point 2-1 and trailing 4-3 heading into the third) and after giving up six goals in the first two periods against the Cougars on January 24th, they were able to shut-out Victoria in the third and win the period 1-0 thanks to a goal from call up Dale McCabe.
Small victories, but ones the Braves will take and hope to build upon in their remaining games against Nanaimo, Kerry Park and Oceanside.
The Braves anticipate the return to the lineup Thursday of defensemen Jordan Groenhyde, Liam Sproule and Garett Stankoven, as well as forward Jack Rachwalski, all of whom missed the game against the Cougars. The return of the veteran defensemen will no doubt be favoured by new Braves goaltender Jason Stewart, who was signed last Friday and who will likely make his first VIJHL start against the Bucs Thursday.
Stewart, who replaced the departed Matt Rud, came in to relieve starter Jordan Werezak last Friday, and in his first action in almost five months, was solid, stopping 22 of 24 shots and shutting the Cougars out in the final period.
As to Werezak, after playing in the game against the Cougars Friday, he was reportedly released by the team and as a result, the Braves will head into the stretch run with Stewart and a cast of affiliate goaltenders to defend the nets.
Offensively, the Braves are hoping that veteran Jake Daughtry, who has a pair of goals and an assist since joining the Braves January 10th, can break out and show the numerous Braves rookies how to hit the back of the net. That includes the likes of Josh Poland (11 goals) and Hunter Atchison (9 goals), who next to Daughtry (also with 11 goals) are the leading snipers on the Braves squad.
The Buccaneers, who defeated the Braves earlier this season 4-1 and 2-0, will be led by their leading scorers Garrett Dunlop (24G, 34A) and Jordan Levesque (18G, 21A). They will also be buoyed by the recent return of former Glacier King and Cougar Garett Brandsma who has 3 goals and 2 assists in four games since joining the Buccaneer lineup.
The Bucs, like the Braves, also head into the stretch run with a new Captain, as Lee Orpen takes over the “C” from Noah Russi. The Braves can also expect to see goaltender Waldhaus on Thursday as he is back from injury. He was the starting goalie for the North in the All-Star game last Sunday, won by the North 7-5, and was the starter in both wins over the Braves earlier in the year.
Both teams will be looking to regroup heading into the playoff season. The Bucs have an outside shot at catching Comox for second place in the North, but more than likely will finish third and meet either Comox or Campbell River in the first round.
Similarly the Braves have a slim chance to catch Kerry Park for fourth in the South (especially with two of their final six games against the Islanders), but if that does not happen and they stay where they are, thanks to the poor record of Oceanside, the Braves will move into the fourth seed in the North and face either Comox or Campbell River in Round 1, a fate they would likely prefer, rather than catching Kerry Park and having to play the Cougars.
The Braves and Bucs will get at things on Thursday night in Nanaimo with a 7:15pm start at the Nanaimo Ice Centre. Both teams then head back over the Malahat for a return engagement at Pearkes Arena in Saanich on Friday. Puck drop there will be 6:30pm.