Riley Mathieson stopped 47 of 51 shots on Tuesday to push the Braves within a win of the Brent Patterson Memorial Trophy.
The VIJHL regular season MVP led his Saanich Braves to a 5-4 win in Game 5 over the Campbell River Storm. Saanich now owns a 3-2 series lead in the best-of-seven finals.
Down 3-1 in the second period, the game turned when Braves defenceman Elliot MacIssac fought Joe Gage. It was an old school move, but it worked, sparking the Braves to four straight goals despite the automatic game ejection for MacIsaac, the Braves’ top scoring defenceman.
“It’s not something you plan for, especially not your older, veteran defenceman,” said Braves coach Sam Waterfield. “MacIsaac] made a veteran call to do it and it worked last night.”
The Braves bounced back with a powerplay goal by Dale McCabe a minute later on an additional roughing minor that Gage picked up in the melee.
For a rookie coach, Waterfield is surprisingly at ease. In five years of junior hockey (including time with the Braves) Waterfield never played in a final, though he was a two-time winner of the Alberta college with the NAIT Ooks.
“Our guys have bonded well, they don’t seem to get down too much, they have good characteristics for playoff hockey,” Waterfield said. “They are in a good headspace right now, defenceman, to do, but he made a veteran call to do it and it worked for use last night.
“We talked about earning the right to play Game 6 in front of our home fans, and last night we talked about earning the right to play for a championship in front of our fans [on Friday].
“It won’t be handed to us, it will be a fun one Friday for the home fans.”
To start the game on Tuesday, Evan Abgrail netted the Braves’ first goal about 10 minutes in from Zach Guerra and Trevor Owens. The Storm answered with 41 seconds left in the first.
Just over five minutes into the second period, however, the Storm pulled ahead 3-1 on goals by Brett Kinsley and 15-year-old call-up Davis Frank. That’s when MacIsaac’s fight sparked the team.
Following McCabe’s goal, Zach Guerra scored with six minutes left in the second. Michael Sproule then opened the third with a goal on the first shift and Guerra added an unassisted goal at the 10-minute mark of the third to extend the Braves’ lead 5-3. Dawson Frank potted one for the Storm with 74 seconds left in the game.
To get here, the Braves had evened the series up in Game 4 with a 3-2 win Monday night in Saanich.
Sproule scored twice for the Braves, who built up a 3-0 lead before surrendering two third-period goals. Gavin Grewal also scored for Saanich.
Going into Friday, Sproule (14-11-25) and the Storm’s Dawson Frank (15-10-25) are tied for the playoff lead in scoring. They are followed by another pair of Braves, McCabe (6-13-19) and Owens (4-15-19)
Game 6 is set for 6:30 p.m., Friday, at Pearkes. If the Storm win the teams will meet again in Campbell River on Saturday at 5 p.m.