By Christian J. Stewart/ISN
After losing to the Westshore Wolves 6-0 on Wednesday, Jan. 21, and tying the Nanaimo Buccaneers 1-1 on Thursday, Jan. 22, the Saanich Braves salvaged their three game week with a 3-2 win over the Kerry Park Islanders in VIJHL action Friday (Jan. 23) at Pearkes Arena in Saanich.
The win was a big one for the Braves. It not only erased the All Star Game hangover that saw the offence come up with just one goal in 130 minutes of hockey (that being from Nick Kean versus Nanaimo), but it also added some distance between themselves and the Islanders in the standings in what was a true “four point” game in the South Division.
With a win, the Islanders could have pulled within two points of the Braves for third. However, it was the Braves who jumped into a six point lead over the Islanders for that spot.
The Braves never trailed Friday, holding leads of 1-0 and 2-0 at the respective intermissions before the Islanders’ Kyle Green tallied early in the third to make it 2-1. The Braves upped their lead midway through the third to make it 3-1, before Green scored again to make it 3-2. The Islanders pulled goaltender Leighton Williams late, but to no avail, as the Braves held on for the win.
Leading the way Friday for the Braves was forward Evan Horvath, who notched a pair of goals – his 12th and 13th of the season – including the game winner at 11:42 of the third, when he converted a beautiful cross-ice pass from Jack Rachwalski.
Horvath scored the first goal of the game when he put the Braves up 1-0 at the 15:11 mark of the first, capitalizing on a penalty to the Islanders David Bittner for tripping. He also had an assist on the Braves second goal which was scored by Rachwalski on the powerplay just 55 seconds into the second period.
Nick Kean, playing his first game against Kerry Park since being acquired by the Braves from the Islanders at the trading deadline, had an assist against his former team. Also drawing assists for the Braves on their goals were Seamus Maguire, with two, and Hunter Atchison.
Goalie Riley Mathieson started for the Braves Friday and stopped 20 of 22 shots to earn his fifth win in his last five starts. Mathieson also played Wednesday in the loss to Westshore, coming in to relieve Brandon Ward, stopping 10 of 13 over the final 35 minutes of that game.
Speaking of Ward, after his disastrous start against Westshore on Wednesday, he rebounded nicely last Thursday against his former team, stopping 40 of 41 Buccaneer shots to salvage a single point for the Braves in the 1-1 tie. His efforts earned him first star honours for that game.
With just six games to go in the regular season, the 15-21-1-5 Braves have enjoyed a few days off before they have to face the Victoria Cougars at Pearkes Arena this Friday, Jan. 30, with a 6:30 p.m. start.
They then travel to Oceanside on Saturday, Jan. 31 for a match against the Generals.
– Christian J. Stewart is a Saanich-based communications professional and contributing editor and photographer with Independent Sports News.