Story by Peter Kung
SAANICH, B.C. – The Victoria Cougars had their five-game winning streak to begin the season come to a screeching halt despite firing 45 shots at Riley Mathieson on Friday night.
Mathieson, who made 43 saves which included turning aside 18 shots in the third period, single-handily backstopped the surging Saanich Braves to a 4-2 victory.
The win moves Saanich, who has won its last three games, into a tie for first place in the South Island Division with the Cougars. Both teams have ten points but the Braves have played one more game.
Austin Wilk opened the scoring at 5:20 of the opening period. Leading an odd man rush, Wilk dished the puck off to John Kretzschmar at the Saanich blue line. Kretzschmar skated into enemy territory and fired a sharp angle shot that bounced off Mathieson. Driving towards the net, Wilk banged home the rebound for his first goal of the season.
Three minutes later, Brandon Fushimi responded with a power play goal for the Braves. From the right point, the ex-Victoria Royals forward slid a pass over to Landon Walters who then fed Cameron Kovesdi. Skating towards the net and instead of shooting, Kovesdi slid the puck across the crease to Fushimi who was pinching in from the point.
Fushimi now has four points in three games for Saanich after spending the last three years in the Western Hockey League.
A neutral zone turnover led to the Braves second and go-ahead goal. Just outside Victoria’s blue line, Evan Horvath head-manned the puck up to Dale McCabe who beat Sean Wendlandt with a backhander at 17:20.
Then with just over a minute to play in the period, Brett Lervold appeared to score the game tying goal after he redirected a Kretzschmar centering pass behind Mathieson. But the goal was disallowed when referee Jake Podann ruled the net was off its moorings.
Saanich scored the only goal of the second period to go ahead 3-1. Wendlandt, who faced a total of 15 shots in the game, misplayed the puck outside his crease. The 18-year-old goalie from Hudson, Wisconsin tried to carom the puck along the end boards to Ryan Buse but instead put it onto the stick of Kovesdi who capitalized on the rookie’s mistake.
That goal came at 4:20.
Lervold cut the deficit to one on a third period power play goal at 8:19 when he pounced all over a Dom Kolbeins rebound. However, Jack Rachwalski sealed the game with a late empty-net goal.
After the buzzer sounded to end the game, Mathieson raised both arms and right leg in jubilation as he was swarmed by his teammates.
The Cougars finished 1-for-6 on the power play; meanwhile, Saanich went 1-for-4.
In other action around the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League: Campbell River Storm 4, Oceanside Generals 1. Nanaimo Buccaneers 6, Peninsula Panthers 3.
Next game for Victoria is Sunday, September 27 against the Campbell River Storm. Game time at the Archie Browning Sports Centre, located at 1151 Esquimalt Road, is 3:30 p.m.
1st star, Riley Mathieson (Saves: 43, Save Percentage: .956)
2nd star, Brandon Fushimi (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)
3rd star, Dale McCabe (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)