Story by Christian J. Stewart - The Saanich Braves will open their 2014 VIJHL playoff season against the Comox Valley Glacier Kings on Tuesday, thanks to the Kings 4-3 OT win Saturday night over Nanaimo that gave Comox a one-point advantage over Campbell River for first in the North.
The hard-charging Storm also won their game Saturday against Oceanside 4-2, but they needed a win and a Comox loss to re-claim first place. They will now face the Nanaimo Buccaneers in the first round. In the South, the Victoria Cougars will play the Kerry Park Islanders - 5-2 winners over the Braves Saturday - and the Westshore Wolves will face the Peninsula Panthers.
For the Braves, the playoffs mean just one thing - a chance to put the regular season behind them and find a way to have success in the post-season. "When it all comes down to it, it is our chance to literally and figuratively turn the page," said Braves Head Coach Brad Cook.
"If I asked my team in September if at the end of the year, would they like to play Campbell River or Comox in the playoffs, I think all our guys would have said "sure!" So really, that is where we are. It's a new season and we have a chance, if all the guys dig a litter deeper and we get the breaks we haven't got all season, to have some success moving forward."
The Braves will be going up against a Comox team that seems to be gelling just at the right time of the year, as they started slowly, but have made a significant run of late, winning their final six games of the season to overtake Campbell River and clinch the North by the single point over the Storm.
For the Braves to succeed against the Glacier Kings, they will have to find a way to shut down Comox leading scorers Duncan Pernal and Ali Gotmy who have 29 and 22 goals respectively, as well as the Glacier Kings setup defenceman Derian Hamilton who leads the team with 37 assists. They will also need to find a way to solve Glacier King goaltender Michael Hails whose .931 save percentage was the tops in the VIJHL this season and whose goals against average of 2.28, was third best behind the Cougar's Connor Beauchamp and Nathan Hargrave.
To solve Hails, the Braves are going to need to rely on leading scorer Jake Daughtry, as well as a second player that came to the Braves from the Cougars at the trading deadline, Nyshan Basra, to continue their recent offensive success. Basra, an 18-year old forward from Surrey, seems to be finding his way with the Braves and has scored five goals in the last four games, while Daughtry (13G, 27A) is also beginning to contribute, scoring two goals and four assists in the last four games.
The Braves will also need to step up some of their secondary scoring from the likes of rookies Josh Poland (second on the team in goals with 11), Hunter Atchison and Evan Horvath, and hope that forwards Jack Rachwalski and Cam MacKay, both recently back into the Braves line-up after injury, can provide some new energy on the front end.
Defensively, the Braves will be led by veterans Jordan Groenhyde and Liam Sproule, both of whom have received the lion's share of minutes this season, along with 18-year old Chris Carpentier, and rookies Mackenzie Valentine, both of whom have performed well on the back end this season.
Those defencemen, as well as rear guards Tom Dakers and Garrett Stankoven, will be assigned to protect Braves goaltender Jason Stewart, who is still adapting to life in the VIJHL after joining the Braves in mid-January after the departure of both Matt Rud and Jordan Werezak. While Stewart has played admirably for the Braves, he will need to raise his game to the next level as well, to combat the high-powered Comox offence.
The Braves have been playing much better as a team lately, keeping games close and losing 4 of their last six games by just a single goal, something they had not done since early January in securing their last win of the year, a 4-3 decision over Kerry Park. They will need to continue that effective team play and catch a few breaks and bounces if they wish to succeed against the Glacier Kings.
The Glacier KIngs and Braves will kick things off in Comox on Tuesday evening with Game 1 at 7:00 PM, while Game 2 is back at Pearkes Arena in Saanich on Thursday at 6:00 PM (note the earlier home start time than usual). The full round 1 schedule is as follows:
- Game 1: Tuesday February 18, 7:00 PM @Comox
- Game 2: Thursday February 20, 6:00 PM @Saanich
- Game 3: Saturday February 22, 7:30 PM @Comox
- Game 4: Monday February 24, 6:00 PM @Saanich
- Game 5 (if necessary): Tuesday February 25, 7:45 PM @Comox
- Game 6 (if necessary): TBA (Likely Thursday February 27, 6:00 PM @Saanich)
- Game 7 (if necessary): Friday February 28, 7:30 PM @Comox
THE STATISTICAL MATCH UP
STANDINGS: Comox – 1st place in North, 2nd Overall (31-14-1-2), 65 points. Saanich – 5th place in South, 8th Overall (11-34-1-2), 25 points
OFFENSE: Comox – 5th place, 177 goals total (3.69 goals per game). Saanich – 8th place, 112 goals (2.33 goals per game).
DEFENSE: Comox – 3rd place, (3.12 goals against per game). Saanich – 9th place, (4.71 goals against per game)
TEAM LEADERS: Comox – Duncan Pernal (29G, 31A), Ali Gotmy (22G, 33A), Derian Hamilton (10G, 37A); Saanich - Jake Daughtry (13G, 27A), Hunter Atchison (9G, 9A), Josh Poland (11G, 6A), Nyshan Basra (8G, 5A).
GOALTENDERS: Comox – Michael Hails (19-6, 2.28 GAA, .931 SV%), Blake Pearson (12-6, 3.17 GAA, .875 SV%). Saanich – Jason Stewart (0-6, 4.22GAA, .857 SV%)
POWER PLAY: Comox – 7th place, 41 for 271, 15.13 percent. Saanich – 8th place, 31-for-306, 10.13 percent
PENALTY KILL: Comox – 7th place, 211 for 266, 79.32 percent. Saanich – 8th place, 207 for 264, 78.41 percent
SEASON SERIES: Comox leads series, 3-1-0-0
- September 20, 2013. Comox 5 @ Saanich 2
- October 5, 2013. Saanich 7 @ Comox 2
- November 1, 2013. Comox 5 @ Saanich 2
- January 18, 2014. Saanich 0 @ Comox 7