Story and Photo by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
September 11, 2014, Victoria, BC (ISN) – Despite a 5-0 loss to the Victoria Cougars in VIJHL action on Thursday night, the Saanich Braves left Archie Browning Arena in Esquimalt feeling a little bit better about themselves than they did a week ago at the same time.
Saanich’s Hunter Atchison looks for an opening against the Cougar’s Wade Johnson (14) and Garnett Roberts (6)(Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
In their last meeting, the first game of the season for both teams, the Cougars throttled the Braves 9-0, scoring three goals in each of the three periods to cruise to the easy win.
It was a different story this Thursday however, as the Braves trailed just 1-0 after a period of play, and played the Cougars to a 0-0 draw over the final 27 minutes of the game, including a scoreless third period. In fact, if it were not for the Cougar’s three second-period powerplay goals, the game would have been a 2-0 affair, and for the Braves, a team trying to find their way to a win, that kind of moral victory is an important step this early in the season.
Saanich’s Josh Poland carries the puck through the neutral zone (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
“We are taking baby steps,” said Head Coach Brad Cook following Thursday night’s game. “Both games in Victoria we got better as the game went on and tonight, being down 1-0 after one and playing them pretty evenly five-on-five and keeping them off the board in the third were big positives for us. We just need to stay out of the box. They are a highly skilled team and deadly on the powerplay and we saw that tonight.”
Victoria’s Garnett Roberts would finish with two assists Thursday, one of 10 different Cougars to hit the scoresheet against the Braves (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
“I am glad we got these two tough games here out of the way early because it gave us a chance to see what we are made of,” added Cook. “We played what is clearly a championship caliber team and I think it is obvious we have a few guys that are a couple of steps behind and we need to work on that to get to that level. But in the third, the boys left all the bad stuff that happened in period two behind them and gave us a third period that we could be proud of and build on for our home opener tomorrow night.”
Saanich goaltender Jason Stewart made hsi first start of the year and was kept busy, making 34 saves on 39 shots in taking the loss (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Against the Cougars, the Braves gave goaltender Jason Stewart his first start of the season and he played well, keeping the Cougars off the board with a number of key first period saves, including a breakaway save mid-period. The Cougars finally got to him late in the period when Michael Fretz banged home a one-timer at the 18:08 mark to put the Cougars on the board.
At the buzzer of the period, the Braves Nyshan Basra took a kneeing penalty and when that was compounded early in third with a slashing penalty to Alex Schlueter, the Cougars powerplay went to work, scoring twice on goals from Ryan Carson and Ryan Vorster, the latter coming with just one second remaining in Schlueter’s penalty.
Saanich defenceman Connor Birmingham (left) tries to clear Victoria’s Alec Wilkinson away from the net during a Cougar’s second period powerplay (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Before the period was out, the Cougars, who outshot the Braves 30-9 over the first two periods, used that momentum to add a goal by Robert Zadra (at 10:06) and another powerplay howitzer from John Kretzschmar (at 12:32) to build their 5-0 lead into the break.
The Braves would have some of their best chances to score in the third thanks to four powerplay opportunities of their own, but Cougars goaltender Grant Payne was solid, stopping all six shots he saw in the period (15 total) to get the shut-out win.
Stewart finished with 34 saves including stopping everything he saw in the second following Kretzschmar’s goal and all 9 Cougar shots he saw in the third.
Saanich’s Jack Rachwalski looks for a way around Victoria defenceman Ludvig Adamsen (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Zadra was once again a leader for the Cougars against the Braves finishing with a goal and two assists to go along with the 4 points he scored against the Braves last week. The Cougars may however find they are without his services for a bit as he may face a suspension after a nasty check-from-behind penalty and ejection he received late in Thursday’s game.
Garnett Roberts, Fretz and Carson also had multi-point nights for the Cougars, who had 10 different players in total hit the scoresheet in some manner.
Next up, the Braves entertain the Westshore Wolves in their home opener at Pearkes Arena on Friday. Puck drop is at 6:30 pm.