1DX 2574

Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

October 22, 2014, Saanich, BC (ISN) – The Saanich Braves got goals from five different players as they skated to a 5-2 win over the Kerry Park Islanders in Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) action Wednesday night at Pearkes Arena in Saanich.

Saanich’s Jack Rachwalski (left), here avoiding the forecheck of Kerry Park’s Nick White, would score one of the Braves five goals (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The win avenges the Braves heart-breaking 5-4 overtime loss to the Islanders last Saturday night in Kerry Park, a game in which Saanich held 2-0 and 4-2 leads, only to see the Islanders come back to tie it late and then take it in the overtime frame.

There would be no such collapse on Wednesday evening, as the Braves would escape the first period tied 1-1, but then score four straight in the second period, to pretty much put the game away. The Islanders would score late in the second to make it 5-2 and have a glorious chance to cut the lead midway through the third on an extended two-man power play, but failed to do so.

1DX 2573
Saanich’s Mackenzie Valentine (right) moves the puck by the Islander’s Cameron Nickerson in first period action (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Special teams were key for both teams tonight, as the Islanders scored both of their goals with the man advantage, while the Braves scored three on the power play and one short-handed.

The Islanders opened the scoring at the 5:24 of the first on a Nick Kean wrap around that beat Saanich starter Brandon Ward. The Braves would get their own power play answer at the 15:49 mark when Jack Rachwalski would score his second of the year on a shot that eluded Islanders starter Ty Rennie.

1DX 2583
Saanich defenseman Garrett Stankoven leads the charge out of the Braves end Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The second period was a crazy affair that saw five goals in total scored. Speedy Nick Guerra would begin the deluge when he scooted in on the wing on a two-on-one and opted to shoot, easily beating Rennie to the short side to give the Braves the 2-1 lead, just 2:01 into the frame.

Power play goals from Nyshan Basra at 11:40 and Ben Meek at 15:36 would extend the Braves lead to 4-1 and shortly after that, the teams would be involved in a goal mouth scuffle that resulted in a Braves penalty. Never fear however, as at the 16:05 mark, the Braves Scott Henderson and Evan Horvath would break in on a two-on-one, with Henderson banging home a nice feed from Horvath to put the Braves up 5-1.

1DX 2588
Saanich’s Scott Henderson (23) would notch his second goal of the season Wednesday against Kerry Park (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Another penalty to the Braves would give the Islanders a late two man power play, but they could only convert once, getting a goal from Zack Smith at the 18:12 mark to make it 5-2. An evenly played third period saw the shots 11-9 for Saanich (39-30 for Saanich total), but there would be no further scoring and the Braves emerged with the win.

The win was the Braves fourth on the season and their fourth in their last six games. Including last Saturday’s OT loss, the Braves have now taken 9 out of a possible 12 points in their last six games. After enduring one of the longest losing streaks in VIJHL history, it is perhaps safe to say the Braves have turned a corner and are starting to gel as a team.

1DX 2594
Saanich centre Hunter Atchison (14) moves the puck back to the point on this faceoff win Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

“I think that’s a fair assessment,” said Braves Head Coach Brad Cook following the game. “Part of that has been finally getting some consistency in our lineup, putting some lines together that have been able to stick together in both practices and games. Our learning curves in practice have been great, the kids have been like sponges and we are really starting to fine tune all the little details of our systems which you can only really do once you get a good foundation.”

The Braves have also made some subtle roster and line-up changes that are paying off well, including the additions of Nick Guerra and Ben Meek to the forward lines. “Nick has been a real nice addition for us,” said Cook. “Initially when he came back down from the Clippers, he was a bit nervous, but he has settled in nicely, accepted his role here (and his role with the Clippers) and is starting to play really well for us. He is generating some nice chemistry with his line and on the power play with [Nyshan ] Basra.”

1DX 2603
Saanich’s Alex Schleuter has been solid on defence since moving to the backend. He would earn a pair of assists Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

“Meek has also been a nice addition,” added Cook. “It took him a week or so to get his conditioning going, but he is a real team guy, has some toughness and character to him and has started to score as well. With the addition of those two guys, we’ve really started to solidify our lines and as such everyone is starting to contribute.”

The addition of Guerra and Meek up front also allows Cook to have some flexibility when it comes to the back end. Recently Alex Schlueter has moved back to play regularly with his Detroit teammate Kyle Schnettler, while in tonight’s game, usual forward Jack Rachwalski played on the back end due to the absence of Connor Birmingham. “Schnettler, after an early injury, is getting better each game for us,” said Cook and Schlueter, he’s moved back a few games ago and has been a really nice solid addition to the back end, both with his offensive abilities and his defensive smarts. Everyone is buying in and enjoying their time at the rink, the boys are getting things done as a team, the room is great and that’s a nice place to be as a coach.”

1DX 2616
Nyshan Basra has been red hot for the Saanich Braves and with a goal and two assists Wednesday, now has none points in his last three games (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The Braves seem to be taking advantage of a “weak” stretch in the schedule, after opening the season with four games against the Cougars and two against Westshore in the first few weeks of the season. That stretch continues next week with a pair of games against the 1-14 Peninsula Panthers, but Cook cautions that those games won’t necessarily be easy. “Hey they gave us a tough game when we played them last and they just went out and beat Campbell River for their first win of the season. The games are played for a reason. It does not really matter who you are playing, you have to show up and play every night. It is nice that we are getting some wins in this stretch, as that certainly will build confidence for us moving forward, but the key for us to keep working harder and not get complacent , as we still have a long way to go in the season.”

1DX 2620
Since rejoining the Braves 9 games ago, forward Nick Guerra has 5 goals and 5 assists and is starting to find some good chemistry with his linemates and on the Braves powerplay (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Game Notes: Brandon Ward made 28 saves for the win. Ty Rennie stopped 34 of 39 in taking the loss. Evan Horvath returned to the lineup after missing Saturday’s game and had an assist. Nyshan Basra continued his hot streak…his goal and 2 assists were his 9th points in the last three games. Nick Guerra has played 9 games since returning to the Braves and has 5 goals and 5 assists over that span (1.1 points per game).