Contributed by Christian J. Stewart/Independent Sports News
The Saanich Braves capped a successful run earning one point in an exciting 4-3 double overtime loss to the Victoria Cougars in Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League action at Pearkes Arena on Friday (Nov. 28).
The single point gave the Braves three out of a possible four points for the week, following a 6-1 thrashing of the Oceanside Generals at Pearkes two days earlier (Nov. 26)
This week is a big one as the Braves play Thursday night (Dec. 4) at Esquimalt’s Archie Browning versus the Cougars and host Pink in the Rink at Pearkes on Friday (6:30 p.m.) versus the Peninsula Panthers in the annual fundraiser to help support cancer research.
With the three points, the Braves (8-14-0-5) have climbed to within a point of the Kerry Park Islanders for third place in the South Division. More importantly, with the solid performance against the Cougars, the Braves have shown they are going to be a force to be reckoned with over the remainder of the season.
It’s been a big bounce back for the Braves, which started the year 0-8, including four losses to the Cougars by a combined score of 25-1. Since going 0-8, the Braves have now put together a respectable record, earning eight wins and securing points in extra time losses in 13 of the last 19 games.
Leading the way is Braves forward Nyshan Basra with 15 goals and 12 assists. The second-year VIJHLer is on fire, carrying a seven-game scoring streak during which time he has netted seven goals and five assists, including a hat-trick against Oceanside last Wednesday. This comes after a slow start for Basra, who had two goals in his first eight games. But in the 11 since then, he has scored 13 goals and eight assists to vault himself to the team scoring lead. If not for a minor upper-body injury that kept him out of four games in early November and a brief illness in early October, his totals could be much more.
Braves Head Coach Brad Cook is high on the 19-year old Surrey, B.C. product.
“Nyshan’s value to the team is huge,” said Cook. “He is always a threat to score every time he touches the puck on the offensive side of centre. Opponents have to pay special attention to a player with his hockey sense, skill set and ability to finish. This results in more time and space for his line mates.
“It has been really nice to see Nyshan assume a bigger leadership role this season,” added Cook. “His compete level has become more consistent, which I believe has led to his great production. He has worked hard to play a complete 200 foot game and be more physical, which provides him and his line mates more time in the offensive zone.”
The Braves resurgence has also been buoyed by the return of forwards Nick Guerra, Seamus Maguire and Ben Meek.
Guerra, who played for the Braves in 2012-2013, but spent most of last season with the BCHL Nanaimo Clippers, is splitting his time with the Braves and Clippers this season and has nine goals and 11 assists in 19 games with the Braves. Maguire returns after a season with the Junior A Flin Flon Bombers in Manitoba, and is starting to contribute since his return, scoring six goals and five assists over his last 8 games, including a pair of goals in Friday’s game against the Cougars.
Meek, a Saanich Minor Hockey product who played part of the last two seasons with the Peninsula Panthers, came back to the Braves in early October and while he only has four goals and eight assists in his 17 games since then, he provides the Braves with some much needed depth at centre, as well as some grit on the Braves front end.
The addition of Guerra, Maguire and Meek up front allows Braves’ head coach Brad Cook some flexibility when it comes to the back end. Detroit native Alex Schlueter has is playing regularly with his fellow Detroit teammate Kyle Schnettler and he seems to be thriving in the role, having moved up to third in team scoring with three goals and 13 assists.
“Part of that has been finally getting some consistency in our lineup, putting some lines together that have been able to stick together in both practices and games,” Cook said. “Our learning curves in practice have been great, the kids have been like sponges and we are really starting to fine tune all the little details of our systems which you can only really do once you get a good foundation.”
The Braves now look to continue building on that foundation and continue their rise up the VIJHL standings with two games this week, Thursday against the Cougars (Archie Browning, 7 p.m.), and Friday (Pearkes, 6:30 p.m.), for Pink in the Rink versus the Peninsula Panthers.
– Christian J. Stewart is a Saanich-based communications professional and contributing editor and photographer with Independent Sports News. Follow Christian on Twitter at @cjs_photography.