The Saanich Braves have advanced to the VIJHL semifinals for the first time in five years after eliminating the Kerry Park Islanders on Tuesday.
Saanich, which finished third overall (26-19-2-1) in the regular season, will face the second-place Nanaimo Buccaneers (37-9-0-2) starting Monday in Nanaimo. The top seed Campbell River Storm will face the winner of the Victoria Cougars and Westshore Wolves, who were tied 2-2 going into Game 5 of their series on Wednesday night.
On Tuesday, Saanich peppered the Islanders with 60 shots and a 6-0 win to take the best-of-seven series in five games.
Defenceman Elliott MacIssac scored the first two goals, one on the powerplay. Michael Sproule, Zach Guerra (powerplay), Trevor Owens (powerplay) and Ryan Strange (shorthanded) also scored.
Goalie Riley Mathieson lived up to his billing as VIJHL league MVP as he stopped 168 of 174 shots for a 1.17 goals against average and playoff leading .966 save percentage.
“[Mathieson] played well, he made the saves he had to, but defensively we didn’t give [the Islanders] many Grade A chances,” said Braves first-year coach Sam Waterfield. “Kerry Park likes to shoot the puck a lot and they did, but with Riley, shots from the outside are pretty routine for him.”
That’s not to say Mathieson wasn’t good when he needed to be. In the times Kerry Park did bring the pressure, Mathieson was solid and gave the Braves a chance to find their game, Waterfield said.
The series was tied 1-1 when it changed in the Braves favour as the team took a more disciplined approach in Game 3. The Braves ended up with a one-sided amount of powerplays and capitalized on them too.
“In Game 3 the refs made it a point they weren’t going to let anything happen after the whistle, and we realized if we played the right way we’d get powerplays,” Waterfield said. “Once we started controlling our temper and eating a couple of shots, it helped us take control of the series.”
The six-day break is a welcome respite for captain Jake Wilhelm who missed the final three games of the series with an illness but will be back for Monday.
Midget Braves win Island title
The Saanich Braves Midget T1 team won its fifth straight Island title over the weekend, defeating the midget Nanaimo Clippers 7-2 at Pearkes to sweep the best-of-three Island final.
The bigger, older Nanaimo team defeated the Braves 5-3 during the round robin. So the Braves responded in the finals by playing a faster, skilled game without worrying about the physical element of the game and won 5-1 in Game 1, said coach Ian Birnie.
Birnie has been coaching with the Braves Midget Tier 1 team for eight years, and has been at the helm for all five straight Island titles.
The team has rallied around captain Spencer Golden, who is part of the core that’s now been to provincials three years in a row. Eleven of the players are eligible to return next year.
The Braves are headed to Fort St. John for the Tier 1 Midget provincials, March 17 to 24.