By Christian J. Stewart/ISN
With just four games remaining in the 2014-2015 VIJHL regular season, the Saanich Braves sent a strong message last week that they may be a team to watch once the playoffs begin.
On Saturday (Jan. 31) in Parksville, the Braves, led by four goals from forward Seamus Maguire, pounded the Oceanside Generals 10-2, while on Friday (Jan. 30), the Braves entertained the league leading Victoria Cougars and gave them all they could handle, losing 3-2 on a goal by the Cougars’ Michael Fretz with just 13 seconds to play.
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 it tough in every game.
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, which has gone 15-14-1-4, including a 4-3 OT loss to the Cougars back on November 28th.
On Saturday in Parksville, the Braves did what they should do against the worst team in the league, scoring early and often and avenging in a big way, a 5-4 loss to the Generals suffered in their last meeting in Parksville on Nov. 15.
Maguire scored the first two goals of the game at 3:04 and 9:17 of the first period and added another pair in the second. Also scoring for Saanich were Jack Rachwalski, Garrett Stankoven, Hunter Atchison (with two), Nick Kean and Evan Horvath.
Brandon Ward started both games for the Braves last week and seems to be rebounding nicely after a couple of poor outings. Ward was a big reason the Braves held the Cougars close Friday, making 37 saves on 40 shots and he stopped another 26 against Oceanside Saturday.
The Braves now sit at 16-22-1-5 and occupy third in the South, five points ahead of the Kerry Park Islanders with both teams having four games left to play, including a head-to-head match in Mill Bay on Saturday, Feb.7.
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 leaving the Cougars to the Braves in Round 1.
Don’t count out the Peninsula Panthers either. They are four points back of Kerry Park and could sneak into fourth in the South if the Islanders continue to struggle.
First up the Braves host the powerful Campbell River Storm at Pearkes Arena (6:30 p.m.) on Friday (Feb. 6). The Braves close out the season with games Monday, Feb 9 at Peninsula and Friday, Feb.13 at home against Westshore.
– Christian J. Stewart is a Saanich-based communications professional and contributing editor and photographer with Independent Sports News.