ESQUIMALT, B.C. – The Victoria Cougars took a gigantic step toward their seventh consecutive divisional title.
Anthony Ciurro made 29 saves, including stopping a penalty shot late in the third period, to lead Victoria to a 5-3 win against the Saanich Braves at the Archie Browning Sports Centre on Thursday.
With the win, the Cougars move six points ahead of Saanich for top spot in the South Island Division. Victoria has one game in hand on the Braves, however.
Both teams face each other one more time this season.
The Cougars, who led 2-0 after one period and 3-1 after two, got goals from Branden Tangney, Kyle Wade, Kenny Britton, Grayden Hohl, and Dom Kolbeins.
Having not played since January 25, Victoria came out flying in the opening frame. However, that was not the case in the final 40 minutes.
The Cougars opened the scoring when Tangney one-timed a centering pass from Owen Dalman at 8:57.
Then at 12:58, Wade made it 2-0. From the top of the right faceoff circle, Wade unloaded a howitzer that sailed over the catching glove of Bryce Schiebel.
Watching the proceedings form the sin bin was Evan Horvath who had 29 seconds remaining in his roughing penalty.
Tit-for-tat, Horvath cut the lead in half with a power play goal of his own at 1:09 of the second period.
Saanich had many scoring chances in the period, including a four-on-three advantage for 67 seconds but was blanked. Ciurro came up huge by stymieing Horvath twice and VIJHL co-scoring leader Nick Guerra once.
Guerra, who shares the scoring race with Colin Blake of the Campbell River Storm, was held off the score sheet for only the tenth time this season and third time against Victoria.
It remained 2-1 in favour of the Cougars until the 16:01 mark when Jordan Passmore set up Kenny Britton who waited and waited for Schiebel to commit before burying his 14th goal of the season.
The pesky Braves cut into the lead for the second time. At 1:46 of the third period, Horvath found the score sheet again when he skated down the right side, cut towards the front of the net, and slide the puck past Ciurro and in.
Hohl doubled the lead with a power play goal at 4:18.
Victoria went up by three at 12:18 on a sharp angle seeing-eye shot from Dom Kolbeins who put a halt to a ten-game goalless drought.
Named the game’s first star, Ciurro was at his best in the third period. Playing with no stick, Ciurro robbed Brandon Barnes from in close with his left pad. Then a minute later, Ciurro stopped Horvath on a penalty shot.
Gavin Grewal scored the final goal on a power play with 70 seconds remaining in the game.
The Cougars finished 2-for-6 with the man advantage; meanwhile, Saanich finished 2-for-7.
Schiebel stopped 25 shots in a losing cause.
The energy line of Liam Kinshella, Akila Sato-Gaudreau, and James Scott did a remarkable job in shutting down the top line of the Braves.
Kolbeins and Passmore each chipped in with two helpers.
Elsewhere in the VIJHL, Clayton Peace had a career-high five points and John Hawthorne made 29 saves as the Nanaimo Buccaneers blanked the visiting Comox Valley Glacier Kings 7-0.
Next game for Victoria is Friday, February 3 versus the Peninsula Panthers. Game time at the Panorama Recreation Centre, located at 1885 Forest Park Drive, is 7:30 p.m.
BAYVIEW PLACE STARS OF THE GAME:
1st star, Anthony Ciurro (Saves: 29, Save Percentage: .906)
2nd star, Kenny Britton (Goals: 1, Assists: 1)
3rd star, Evan Horvath (Goals: 2, Assists: 1)