By Christian Stewart/ISN
It’s been a rough two weeks for the Saanich Braves, who dropped their sixth loss in a row on Sunday (Dec. 14), 7-6 to the Kerry Park Islanders.
The Braves head into the Christmas break with a pair of home games this week, the Kerry Park Islanders today (Dec. 17) at Pearkes Arena. Puck drop is 7:30 p.m.
The Panthers and Braves play at Pearkes on Friday, 6:30 p.m., and then on New Year’s Day at Panorama at 6 p.m.
WIth the current skid, Braves’ are 8-19-0-5, fourth in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey Leauge’s South division. They haven’t won since Nov. 26 when they beat the Oceanside Generals 6-1.
Since that time they suffered 4-3 (in double-overtime) and 7-1 losses to the Victoria Cougars, a 5-2 loss to the Peninsula Panthers on Pink in the Rink night (Dec. 5) and last week, a 6-2 loss to the Westshore Wolves on Wednesday, Dec. 10, and a 6-4 loss to the Campbell River Storm on Friday, Dec. 12 and the loss to the Islanders on Sunday.
Making matters worse is the Braves have given up three or more goals in the third period of the past five games. It’s turned close games into disappointing losses.
The string of bad luck began in the Dec. 4 game with the Cougars that saw the Braves trail 2-1 heading into the third, only to surrender five third period goals to lose 7-1. Similarly, the Peninsula Panthers scored four in the third on Dec. 5 to turn a 2-1 Saanich lead into a 5-2 loss. The Wolves scored three in the third to cement their 6-2 win on Dec. 10, while in Campbell River on Dec. 12, the Storm scored three times in the third to hold a 6-1 lead before the Braves scored two late goals to make the score respectable.
On Sunday in Kerry Park, the Braves held a 3-1 lead after a period of play and a 5-4 lead after two, but then gave up three in the third, including the final two goals of the game, to suffer the 7-6 loss.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why the Braves are struggling in third periods but one can usually assume it is a combination of mental and physical fatigue – needing to play a full 60 minutes of hockey – and general bad luck and bad bounces, or as they say in hockey, “puck luck.”
Having given up 31 goals over their last seven games, some might also point to team defence and goaltending and in that regard, the Braves may be starting to see some issues.
Saanich’s No. 1 goalie Brandon Ward has played well and has been in net for all eight of the Braves wins this season, including a pair of shut-outs in October and November. But Ward’s struggled of late, with one win in his last nine games. He’s surrendered four or more goals in all of those losses and six or more in three of them. It may be that Ward is showing signs of fatigue, having started 24 of the Braves 28 games (over 1,300 minutes of hockey) since joining the club in mid-September.
Backup Riley Mathieson, who joined the team in early December from the Oceanside Generals, replacing Jason Stewart, has had a slow start with the Braves.
Mathieson started two games last week against Westshore and Campbell River and gave up six goals in each of those appearances.
On the positive side the Braves seem to be finding their scoring touch again, having scored 10 goals in the last two games after only scoring five in the three games prior to that.
Leading the way is Braves leading scorer Nyshan Basra, breaking out with three goals in the past two games after he went scoreless in the previous four games.
Hunter Atchison returned to the line-up Sunday against Kerry Park after a two-game absence and had a pair of goals. Ben Meek scored goals against both Campbell River and Kerry Park, his first since scoring against Kerry Park on Oct. 22.
The Braves, who not long ago, were just one point behind Kerry Park for third place in the South, have now fallen nine points behind the Islanders but remain six points ahead of last place Peninsula.
– Christian J. Stewart is a Saanich-based communications professional and contributing editor and photographer with Independent Sports News.