Braves Good, But Cougars (Still) Better

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Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

November 5, 2014, Saanich, BC (ISN) – A vastly improved Saanich Braves squad (6-2-0-2 in their last ten games) took to the ice against the VIctoria Cougars in VIJHL action Wednesday night at Pearkes Arena in Saanich and in an entertaining, hard-hitting affair, the Braves gave all they had, but still ended up on the losing end of a 4-1 score to the high flying Cougars.

The Braves Scott Henderson lead the rush out of the Saanich end in Wednesday’s action against Victoria (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

When these two teams last met on October 3rd, a 6-1 Cougars win, it was the fourth win by the Cougars over the Braves thus far in the 2014-2015 season and marked the Braves 26th loss in a row extending back to January of 2014. In those four games, the Cougars outscored the Braves 25-1. That can perhaps be marked as the deepest valley on the timeline of the Saanich franchise, who since then, have played some decent hockey and heading into Wednesday’s match with Victoria, have put together a 6-2-0-2 record, including a pair of shut-outs last week against Peninsula and Comox.

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Saanich defenceman Alex Schleuter clears the puck away from his end during first period action Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

On Wednesday, the Braves showed the Cougars their new look, including recent Junior A returnees Nick Guerra and Seamus Maguire and goaltender Brandon Ward, none of whom were with the Braves for those first four meetings. While the Braves came out and showed that they have vastly improved their game, keeping the score close throughout, the outcome was still the same, a Cougars win and a Braves loss.

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The Braves Seamus Maguire (17) attempts to keep the puck away from the check of Victoria’s Howard Howden (11)(Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The Braves good play of late has been due in part to the steady play of number one goaltender Ward. Ward, who has started 13 of the 14 Braves games played since he was acquired in mid-September from the Nanaimo Buccaneers, had 5 wins in his last 6 starts, including the pair of shut-outs last week against Peninsula and Comox.

His luck would run out on Wednesday however and his bid for a third shut-out in the last four games would end quickly, as just 4:22 into the game, the Cougars’ speedy Michael Fretz would rush down the wing and blast a laser beam over Ward’s shoulder for his 15th goal of the season to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead.

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The Cougars’ Michael Fretz (22) would score the first and last goals of the game for his 15th and 16th on the season (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Ward would buckle down after that however, stopping the remaining 12 shots the Cougars fired at him in the frame and the Cougars took that 1-0 lead into the first break.

In the second period, after the Braves failed to score on a pair of powerplay chances, the Cougars would get one on their third powerplay of the evening. Ward would have trouble with a Sam McMullen shot and the rebound came to Wade Johnson in the slot and he batted it home at the 16:58 mark to put the Cougars up 2-0.

The Cougars would add to their lead early in the third, when another rebound would prove costly for Ward and the Braves. This time it was Cougars newcomer Lane Van deWetering, making his VIJHL debut after being acquired from the 100 Mile House Wranglers, who would be the beneficiary, sweeping the puck past Ward 2:42 into the period to put the Cougars up 3-0.

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Victoria’s Lane Van de Wetering (13) would have a goal and an assist in his VIJHL debut (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The Braves would not give up though, and less than a minute later, an odd man rush into the Cougars end resulted in a goal by Nick Guerra, his 6th of the year, after Guerra’s centering pass went off a Victoria defender and in behind Cougars starting goaltender Anthony Ciurro.

That 3-1 score would hold up through a hard-hitting and entertaining third period and with just over two minutes left, the Braves pulled Ward for the extra attacker. The Braves came close a couple of times and then their chances were helped even further by a late slashing penalty to the Cougars Wade Johnson, but just 28 seconds after the penalty, Fretz found himself on a short-handed breakaway and he made no mistake, putting his 16th goal of the season into the empty net and sealing the Cougars 4-1 win.

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Saanich’s Nick Guerra (11) would have the only goal for the Braves in Wednesday’s game against the Cougars (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The Cougars victory moves their record to 14-2-1-0 and they keep pace with the Westshore Wolves, 7-4 winners over Nanaimo Wednesday night, for first in the South Division. The Braves fall to 6-10-0-3 and they are now four point back of Kerry Park for third in the South.

The Braves will have a chance to close that gap Thursday night, as they travel over the Malahat to clash with the Islanders in Mill Bay in a 7:30 pm start. The Braves will then return home Friday to host Westshore in a 6:30 pm start at Pearkes.

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Saanich’s Cameron Kovesdi (13) carries the puck through centre ice Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Game Notes: The Braves bench was a bit short Wednesday as regulars Evan Horvath, Hunter Atchison, Conner Allan, Nyshan Basra and Jordan Parmar were not in the line-up. The Cougars outshot the Braves 29-23. Three stars were not announced but ISN calls it as: 1) Fretz, Cougars (2G); 2) Van de Wetering, Cougars (1G, 1A); 3) McMullen, Cougars. Braves regular national anthem singer Lilly Cave will be heading to Vancouver November 23rd to sing the anthems prior to the Canucks / Blackhawks game.

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.