Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
Saanich, BC (ISN) – If one were a betting man, it would be a pretty safe bet to put some money down on the 36-5-1-0 Victoria Cougars to repeat as Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League champions in 2015. Don’t count on the Saanich Braves and their fans to be one of those taking that bet.
The Braves, playing perhaps their best game of the year thus far against the Cougars, gave the cats all they could handle Friday night at Pearkes Arena, ultimately dropping a 3-2 decision with just 13 seconds remaining thanks to a power play goal by the Cougar’s Michael Fretz.
Saanich’s Quinn Miller (left) and Victoria’s Lane Van de Wetering (right) look for the puck following a face-off during Friday’s action (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Despite the loss, the Braves sent the Cougars a pretty strong message that if they have an opportunity to face the Cougars in either the first or second round of the South Division playoffs, the Cougars will have to fight their way to tough wins in every game.
Saanich’s Quinn Miller (22) and Victoria’s Marino Somerville (17) battle for a loose puck (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
While the Cougars have now won all eight meetings between the two clubs this season, they learned Friday that this is not the same Braves team that started the season 0-8-0-1, including four losses to the Cougars by a combined score of 25-1. Instead they saw the Braves team that since then, has gone 15-14-1-4, including a 4-3 OT loss to the Cougars back on November 28th.
Despite outshooting the Braves 40-19 overall, the Cougars had to battle and scratch for every goal, scoring twice on the power play, including the game winner.
Victoria’s Ryan Carson looks for a tip during second period action Friday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The closeness of the game was also a testament to the solid play of Braves goaltender Brandon Ward, who made some outstanding saves, especially in stopping 15 of 16 first period Cougar shots.
That lone goal came from former Brave Sam McMullen, who walked in off the wing and beat Ward with a hard shot through the five hole to put the Cougars up 1-0 at the 6:43 mark.
The teams would exchange goals in the second period, as Aiden Silzer-Hooker would score at 4:27 to give the Cougars a 2-0 lead, while the Braves’ Connor Birmingham would score his first of the season less than a minute later to make it 2-1.
Saanich goaltender Brandon Ward would make 37 saves Friday, including just enough of this second period shot by the Cougars Nathan Looysen (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Early in the third, the Braves would tie things up when Evan Badry scored his first of the season to make it 2-2.
The Braves, who could only muster nine shots on Cougars starter Grant Payne over the first two periods, finally put him to work in the third, peppering nine more shots at him, but to no avail.
Victoria defenceman Ryan Buse (4) skates away from the back pressure from Saanich’s Hunter Atchison (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Fretz’s game winner came on the Cougar’s 13th shot of the period and moved the Cougar’s current win streak to four. The win also temporarily at least, vaulted the Cougars into first place overall in the VIJHL, just one point ahead of the North Division leading Campbell River Storm.
As to the Braves, they now sit at 15-22-1-5 and occupy third in the South, three points ahead of Kerry Park with both teams having five games left to play, including the Braves travelling to Oceanside today and the Islanders entertaining Kerry Park.
Saanich’s Cameron Kovesdi leads the rush out of the Braves end Friday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Should the Braves hold on to that lead, they would face the Westshore Wolves in Round 1 of the playoffs, while the Cougars would face the Islanders. Should Kerry Park overtake the Braves, then they would face the Wolves while the Cougars and Braves would square off in the first round.
Victoria’s Michael Fretz would score the game winner on the powerplay with just 13 seconds remaining in Friday’s game (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Game Notes: Not dressed for Saanich Friday were Ben Meek, Wil Finlay, Cam Mackay and Jordan Parmar. This is parents weekend for the Braves and all the Moms and billet Moms were honoured following the game. Saturday is the Father’s road trip up to Oceanside.