Saanich Braves defenceman Jacob King fires a shot from the point against the Peninsula Panthers. (Saanich Braves/Facebook)

Quick-start lands Saanich Braves first in Island league

Braves tickets, prizes available through Soap for Hope for Friday’s game

The first-place Saanich Braves are off to a romping start in the Island’s junior B hockey league and it should come as no surprise.

On Sunday the Braves moved to 7-0-1 in eight games with a 5-4 matinee win over the Kerry Park Islanders. The single loss came in overtime against the Peninsula Panthers.

“There is a confidence that we can come back and win games, where as last year it took us four to five months,” said second-year head coach Sam Waterfield, who was named VIJHL coach of the year in 2017-18.

The team sits atop all nine teams in the VIJHL standings with 22 points, seven points clear of the Victoria Cougars in the south division. At this point last year the Braves were 3-5, a third of the way through a mediocre start of 10 wins in the first 25 games. Things changed with a couple of mid-season additions and the Braves finished on run of 16-4-1-2 to claim first place in the South division. Then came a wild playoff ride that ended in Game 7 of the VIJHL final.

Related: ‘It will always sting,’ but Braves know it was a good run

The Braves graduated 20-year-olds goalie Riley Mathieson (VIJHL MVP), Michael Sproule (Braves top scorer), Trevor Owens (third in team scoring) and Jordan Strandlund (sixth in team scoring). Mathieson is playing hockey for the V.I.U. Mariners in the B.C. Intercollegiate Hockey League.

With 15 players returning from last year’s team, this team knows how to win, Waterfield said.

“When you have that veteran presence in the dressing room, and with the systems in place, the guys already know what they’re doing earlier rather then later,” Waterfield said.

Related: Braves beat Bucs to advance to league final

It’s an ideal succession as younger players have stepped up into lead roles. Last year’s backup goalie Chris Combiadiakis is 5-0 in five starts this year and Connor Cheyne is 2-1 in three starts. Waterfield expects the two will split the starts this season whereas Mathieson played 37 of the 48 games in 17-18.

Eighteen-year-old Cam LeSergent leads the Braves with 13 points in eight games, ahead of 20-year-old- Gavin Grewal (11 points), 18-year-old Zach Guerra (nine points) and 20-year-olds Dale McCabe and Kyle Mace (eight points).

Also departed this year is defenceman Elliot MacIsaac, who sacrificed his final year of junior eligibility to study business at the University of Calgary.

“The run last year almost convinced him to stay, almost,” said Waterfield.

This year’s team is still benefitting from the impact MacIsaac brought. His mid-season arrival from the Truro Bearcats brought calm and confidence to the Braves’ D core, Waterfield said.

“After going on a run with him last year, they’ve drawn on that and are playing well for the start of the season,” Waterfield said.

“When you return the group we had last year it’s a big advantage compared to last year,” Waterfield said. “We didn’t know how to win games, we lost a lot of one and two goal games, but this year we know how to win.”

Tickets the Braves’ Friday night game (Oct. 5) against the Victoria Cougars are available before hand for only $5 through Soap for Hope. At Friday’s game Soap for Hope will be hosting a 50/50 Raffle, a Chuck-a-Puck contest with two Stormtech jackets from TeamSales, and a raffle contest (bring a hygiene product donation to enter for a prize). Tickets available by emailing Bryce Reynolds at bryce@disasteraid.ca or by calling 250-590-1462.


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