The Braves bucked a trend of home-ice advantage, beat the Bucs, and are moving on to the final.
The Saanich Braves defeated the Nanaimo Buccaneers by a 5-2 score in Game 7 of the VIJHL semifinals on Sunday at the Nanaimo Ice Centre. Before Game 7, the home team had won every game in the series.
The Braves now advance to face the Campbell River Storm in the finals.
Sunday’s game was played before the largest crowd in Buccaneers franchise history, with 610 fans on hand and more who had to be turned away at the door.
The Braves were able to limit the Buccaneers’ home-ice advantage, however, by building a 3-0 lead by the first intermission. The Bucs made it 3-2 going into the third, but couldn’t score a tying goal and the Braves added two empty-netters to ice the series.
“We were probably gripping our sticks too tight,” said Curtis Toneff, Bucs coach. “We saw our fans up there and definitely appreciated it, but I don’t think too many guys have played in Game 7s in those situations.”
Booker Chacalias and Clayton Peace scored Nanaimo’s goals and Derek Krall made 22 saves in defeat as shots were 41-27 in favour of the home team.
For Saanich, Jake Wilhelm, Zach Guerra, Dale McCabe, Elliott MacIsaac and Cameron LeSergent scored and Riley Mathieson made 39 saves for the win.
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Nanaimo Buccaneers lose 5-2 to the Saanich Braves in Game 7. Good hockey game at the NIC and a great crowd… pic.twitter.com/mYCnRBZxKh— Greg Sakaki (@BulletinSports) March 19, 2018
Toneff said his team laid it on the line in the third period, but couldn’t come all the way back after its tough start.
“That’s the game. It was a good game in the end,” he said. “It could have got ugly, but our guys never said die.”
Toneff said his coaching staff and ownership are proud of the players, the franchise records they achieved, how much they improved and how close they became as a team.
“We thought we were destined for a championship run, or at least a final, but so many things have to go right for that to happen,” the coach said.
Toneff gave the Braves full credit for coming back to win a series they trailed 2-0.
“We definitely wish them the best of luck. It would be nice to see them take one. Let’s face it, they’re a bit of an underdog between us three teams,” Toneff said.
GAME ON … The Storm and Braves play Game 1 of the VIJHL finals on Tuesday, March 20, at 7:30 p.m. in Campbell River.