By Christian J. Stewart
With a 3-1 win over the Kerry Park Islanders last Saturday night (Feb. 7), the Saanich Braves locked themselves into a third place finish in the South Division of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League and assured a first round playoff match-up with the second place Westshore Wolves.
Fans can get a sneak-peek at this playoff series Friday night (Feb. 13) at 6:30 p.m., as the Braves will host the Wolves in the final regular season game of the season for both teams at Pearkes Arena in Saanich.
The Braves win over Kerry Park was their only win in three games played over the past week, including a tough, well-played 3-2 loss to the Campbell River Storm last Friday (Feb. 6) and a disappointing 3-1 loss to the Peninsula Panthers this past Monday (Feb. 9). However, it was the most important game of the bunch, as the two points they earned meant the Islanders could not catch them in the standings. Kerry Park, who also finish their regular season tonight with a game against Peninsula, will now face the first place Victoria Cougars in their first round match-up starting next week.
In the win over Kerry Park, it was Evan Horvath, who played the hero, scoring the game winner at 14:51 of the third period to give the Braves a tight 2-1 win. Also strong for the Braves was goaltender Riley Mathieson, who continued his great run, earning his sixth win in his last six starts for the Braves. Dayne Ellison had the other marker for the Braves.
The Braves could be a team to watch in the playoffs. Despite the loss to Peninsula on Monday, in their one-goal losses to the Storm last week and to the Victoria Cougars the week before, the Braves showed that they can play with the best of them if they put their mind to it and stick with the game plan.
However, the Wolves will be a tough opponent, as heading into Friday’s game, Westshore owns a 6-1 record against the Braves this season, including 6-0 and 6-2 victories in their last two meetings.Saanich’s only win came on Nov. 7 when they defeated the Wolves 8-2. The Braves also lost two of the games in overtime and another by a single goal and it will be the type of intensity they showed in those games that they will need to bring if they hope to secure an upset and move on to the second round.
In other VIJHL playoff match-ups, the Peninsula Panthers, last place finishers in the South, will host the Oceanside Generals, last place finishers in the North, in a sudden death Wild Card game on Monday (Feb. 16) at Panorama. The winner of that game will take the fourth seed in the North and will face Campbell River in the first round. Nanaimo and Comox Valley will square off in the other North Division match-up.
– Christian J. Stewart is a Saanich-based communications professional and contributing editor and photographer with Independent Sports News.