Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN) - A three goal outburst in the last three minutes of the second period, including two on the power-play, propelled the Saanich Braves to a 5-3 win over the Peninsula Panthers in VIJHL action Wednesday night at Pearkes Arena in Saanich. The game marked the first meeting of the two teams since the upstart Panthers eliminated the heavily favoured Braves from last season's playoffs and after the first period Wednesday, it looked as if the Panther's would continue their success against the Braves, as they took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
A big reason for the lead was the play of Panther goaltender Stephen Heslop, who turned away 20 of 21 Braves shots in the first period, picking up right where he left off in frustrating the Braves in their playoff series last March. The only shot to beat him was that by Brave defenseman Liam Sproule, who jumped in off the point and took a nice feed from Saanich's Josh Gray, burying it by Heslop at the 10:15 mark to put the Braves up 1-0.
Panther goalie Stephen Heslop was solid early, stopping 20 of 21 first period shots against the Braves Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
The Panthers, who up to that point were badly outplayed by the Braves, would turn the tides in the second half of the period, first tying it up at the 14:55 mark, when a Spencer Loverock point shot would find its way through traffic and past the glove of a screened Tanner McGaw. They would then take a 2-1 lead with just 26 seconds remaining in the period, as Cole Glover would snap one into the net behind McGaw.
Saanich's Liam Sproule would have a solid game, scoring the Braves first goal and being named 2nd star (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
In the second period, both teams played each other rather evenly (with the Braves outshooting the Panthers 13-12 for the period), but it took just over 17 minutes of play for either team to score. But when they finally did, they made up for it big time, with the Braves scoring three times and the Panthers once in the final three minutes of the period. The Braves would kick the outburst off at the 17:07 mark, when Josh Gray would score a power-play marker from Shawn McBride and Ty Jones to tie things up at 2-2.
Panther Spencer Loverock would put the Panther's on the board with a goal in the first period (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Just after the ensuing faceoff, the Panthers Connor Logan and Zach Smith broke in on a 2 on 1, with Smith tapping the puck past McGaw only 7 seconds after the Gray goal and the Panthers had restored their lead at 3-2.
Saanich's Josh Gray had two goals and two assists to pace the Saanich attack Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Just over a minute later, the Braves would strike again as Ty Jones beat Heslop after being set up by McBride and Gray and after a Panther penalty with 40 seconds remaining in the period, Gray would strike again on the power-play, notching his second goal of the night with just 5 seconds left in the period to put the Braves up 4-3.
Peninsula's Cole Rolka moves the puck through the neutral zone during Wednesday's action (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
In the third period, it looked like the goals would keep coming, as Saanich's Sam McMullen would bang home a rebound off a Andrew White shot for his first of the season just 5 minutes in, but that would turn out to be the final goal of the game, as the Braves defence played a more disciplined game, limiting the Panthers to just 8 shots, and preserving the 5-3 win. Overall for the Braves, McGaw stopped 27 of 30 shots for the win, while the Panther's Heslop was busy stopping 42 of 47 shots in the loss. The three stars of the game were all from the Braves and were Andrew White (3rd), Lam Sproule (2nd) and Sam McMullen (1st).
Peninsula's Logan Gibson and Saanich's Sam McMullen battle for the puck off a third period faceoff Wednesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Game Notes: The game was a bit of a homecoming for Panther players Ben Meek, Austin Singhera, goaltender Justin Samra and Assistant Coach Brian Passmore, all of who previously played or coached in the Saanich Minor Hockey Association. The Panthers Daniel Welch was also an AP player last season with the Braves....The Braves line of Ty Jones, Josh Gray and Shawn McBride is proving to be a lethal combination, accounting for a total of 3 goals and 8 assists tonight, to go along with the 5 goals and 5 assists the line had in the Braves opener last Friday.
Saanich's Sam McMullen (left) celebrates his third period goal with teammate Garrett Kemmler (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)