Goalie Riley Mathieson returns for his last year with the Saanich Braves in the 2016-17 season. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Goalie Riley Mathieson returns for his last year with the Saanich Braves in the 2016-17 season. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Saanich Braves earn top awards heading into playoffs

MVP, Coach of Year lead Braves against Kerry Park Islanders starting Tuesday

The Braves enter the first round of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League playoffs against the Kerry Park Islanders at home Tuesday night, 7:30 p.m. at Pearkes arena.

While the Braves (26-17-2-3) finished first in the South division they are third overall and draw the sixth-overall Islanders (21-21-0-6).

Game 2 goes Wednesday in Mill Bay and Game 3 back at Pearkes on Friday.

The Braves ended the season on Saturday with a 3-2 loss to the Westshore Wolves (the Wolves, incidentally, finished with six straight wins).

For the second year in a row the Saanich Braves took some big awards, namely, goalie Riley Mathieson being honoured with the Jamie Benn VIJHL most valuable player award. (Last year’s Braves captain Nick Guerra won the Jamie Benn trophy.) First-year Braves coach Sam Waterfield was also honoured as the VIJHL Coach of the Year.

Both earned the awards on the back of the Braves’ exceptional season turnaround. On Nov. 24, the Braves were 10-13-1-1, when they played a seminal match, losing a gongshow, penalty-filled affair to the Oceanside Generals). From that point on, the Braves went 16-4-1-2, and ended with the best overall record in in the South.

See: Braves captain Nick Guerra named Jamie Benn MVP of VIJHL

The award is testament to the group and the growth the team experienced over the year, Waterfield said.

“It’s a nice honour to be voted by your peers as one of the top coaches in the league,” he added. “Of our 22 roster players, 11 are rookies, it’s been nice to watch them turn into the players they are now, compared to the start of the season, and being able to watch them grow on a daily, and weekly, basis.”

Like most of the team, Waterfield wasn’t with the Braves when they were upset by the Islanders in the first round of the 2017 playoffs.

To call this a rematch is an overstatement, Waterfield said.

“We are a pretty fresh group, we only have six guys from that team,” Waterfield said. “It’s almost two new teams that are on the ice.”

In terms of prepping for the playoffs, Waterfield expects a physical series.

“[Kerry Park] has gritty guys who are made for playoff hockey,” he said. “We will focus on our game but have to realize when we make mistakes they have guys who can score.”

The Braves are a healthy team but will miss Trevor Owens for Game 1 as the team’s fourth-overall scorer serves a suspension.

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