Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
February 27, 2015, Saanich, BC (ISN) – This just might go down as one of the most memorable VIJHL playoff series ever. Playing their fourth overtime game in a row, the Westshore Wolves’ James Severs scored with 5:14 to play in the second overtime Friday night to give the Wolves a 5-4 win over the Saanich Braves at Pearkes Arena.
Westshore’s James Severs would score twice, including the double OT game winner, to give the Wolves a 5-4 win over Saanich on Friday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Severs’ goal, a wrister from the point that somehow found its way through a crowd and over the shoulder of Braves goaltender Riley Mathieson, capped off the 4-2 series win for the Wolves, but also capped off a series that was filled with incredible drama, excitement and as much anxiety that anyone could take on either side.
Saanich’s Hunter Atchison (14) dishes off to Nick Kean (11) in this rush through centre ice. Atchison and Kean would lead the Braves in playoff scoring with 8 points each (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The last four games in the series all went to overtime (possibly a VIJHL record), with two of them going into double overtime. In all of those games, the team trailing at some point in the game was the team that came back to win. This was the case in Game 3 last Sunday when the Wolves erased a 2-1 deficit to win 3-2 in double overtime, in Game 4 Monday when the Braves dramatically came back from 4-0 and 5-1 deficits to tie it up with 2.5 seconds to play and then win 6-5 in overtime and again in Game 5 Wednesday when it was the Wolves turn to score a tying goal in the final minute and then win 4-3 in overtime. Things were no different Friday, as the Braves held 3-1 and 4-2 leads, only to see the Wolves battle back with two third period goals to tie it up and send it to overtime.
Saanich’s Seamus Maguire (17) splits the gap between teammate Jordan parmar (24) and Westshore’s Spencer Preece (9) (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The Braves looked to be in control of this game Friday, having scored three straight second period goals after Clay Carson had opened the scoring for the Wolves with a powerplay goal in the first. Hunter Atchison, on the powerplay, Nick Kean and Evan Horvath, shorthanded, put the Braves up 3-1 at the 16:31 mark of the period, but a powerplay goal from Severs cut the gap to 3-2 at the second break.
Westshore’s Nicholas Polomark (14) moves to avoid a check from Saanich’s Liam Sproule (3)(Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
In the third, Saanich Captain Dayne Ellison restored the Braves two goal lead with a goal at 1:57, but goals from Quentin McShane and Corey Peterson, the latter at the 10:52 mark tied the score and sent things to overtime.
Westshore’s Dylan Grant (6) leads a charge up the ice (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Both the first and second overtimes were some of the most exciting hockey to be played at Pearkes Arena in sometime. Saanich goaltender Mathieson and Westshore goaltender Chris Smith were both called upon to make some huge, pressure filled saves, most notably Smith who came up with some of his best saves of the game in the second overtime and who also got some help from his goal posts.
Saanich’s Seamus Maguire (17) carries the puck out of his own end (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
After some incredible chances by both sides, the winning goal was almost a bit anti-climatic. The Braves were whistled for icing and on the faceoff, Clay Carson won the puck back to Severs at the point and his harmless looking wrist shot hit the net to give the Wolves the win.
Saanich Captain Dayne Ellison, here without a glove, would cap off his Junior career with a goal, but in a losing effort against the Wolves (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Naturally disappointed with the loss, Braves Head Coach Brad Cook had nothing but the utmost respect for the effort his team put out, “If you are going to lose a playoff series, what better way to go out than the way we did. Four games that went to overtime? The incredible comeback in Game 4? Our guys were warriors and I am really pround of how they played, especially the core group that was here last year…we’ve come so far as a group since then and these guys should all be proud of that.”
Westshore’s Nicholas Polomark (14) skates away from Saanich’s Ben Meek (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
And so they should. Fans may recall that over the span of last season and the start of this season, the Braves endured a 26-game losing streak. That ended with a win over Oceanside on October 8th and since then the Braves have played some respectable hockey. With their season finish (17-25-1-5) and they way they played against a veteran laden Westshore team in this series, they should carry a ton of optimism into the 2015-2016 season.
Saanich Evan Horvath (15) celebrates his second period goal that put the Braves up 3-1 (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
“We have a core group of 20 players who are eligible to come back and play for us next season,” said Cook. “Obviously we hope that some of those kids will move up to the next level, but should they all come back, the experience they’ve gained this season and last bodes extremely well for us moving forward.”
As to his needs for next season, Cook mentioned that he will be on the lookout for a top scoring forward, as well as a veteran defenceman to help provide some stablity on the back end. That search will begin in late March, as the team begins their development ice program and will continue into early June when the Braves hold their annual prospect camp.
Saanich’s Jack Rachwalski (9) flies through the neutral zone with Westshore’s Nicholas Polomark in pursuit (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
As to the Wolves, they now get ready to face the top ranked Victoria Cougars in the South Division final. The Cougars, who swept Kerry Park 4-0, have been waiting patiently and will likley host the Wolves in Game 1 on Thursday March 5th at Archie Browning in Esquimalt.
“This series [against the Braves] certainly gives us some great preparation for the series against the Cougars,” said Wolves Head Coach Brian Passmore. “The Cougars are relentless, but we learned how to play the right way as this series moved on and learned how to overcome some tough adversity and that will definitely help us against Victoria.”
Game Notes: Westshore’s Tyler Smith was not dressed for the Wolves as he was serving a one game suspension for a head contact penalty earned in Game 5. Saanich’s Kyle Schnettler also did not play due to an ankle injury. Final shots were 44-35 for Westshore including a 16-11 edge in the overtime periods.