Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart - With a 4-3 OT road win over the Nanaimo Buccaneers on Thursday and a 3-1 win over the Campbell River Storm at home on Friday, the Saanich Braves have said goodbye to a miserable January with a modest two-game win streak and will have a chance to quickly move that to three, when they play the Kerry Park Islanders in Mill Bay on Saturday night.
The character win in Nanaimo on Thursday may have been just what the Braves needed to kick-start the final two weeks of the regular season, as trailing 2-0 early in period three, the Braves erupted for three goals in the first ten minutes of the period, while giving one up to Nanaimo, to send the game into OT.
With 1:12 remaining in that extra period, Max Mois put an end to the Braves 4-game losing streak, putting one past Nanaimo goalie Riley Medves for the win.
On Friday, the Braves played host to the 10-30 Campbell River Storm and would use an early powerplay goal from Nick Guerra, the 8th of his rookie season, to jump out to a 1-0 lead just over four minutes in.
The pesky Storm, who defeated Saanich two-weeks ago 3-2, would not go away however, and with just six seconds remaining in the period, they would tie things up on a nice two-on-one goal from Christopher Critchley, as he converted a nice pass from Jon Brumwell and chipped one past Braves starter Bowman Rutledge.
The second period was also an evenly played affair, with Campbell River holding a slight edge in shots 10-9, but it was a shot from Braves power-forward Josh Gray that was the only goal of the period, as he beat Nicholas Clark far side from the right wing at 17:46 to put the Braves up 2-1.
In the third, the Storm would have an early powerplay opportunity that would give them a glorious opportunity to tie things up, but it would be the Braves who would score shorthanded instead, as Cole Golka took a nice two-on-one feed from Sam McMullen and slid it under Clark to give the Braves a 3-1 lead just over four minutes into the frame.
While both teams would have opportunities to score after that, the Braves finishing with a 32-28 edge in shots, neither team would score and the Braves would emerge with the 3-1 win.
With the win, the Braves move six points ahead of the Westshore Wolves in the battle for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs and with a win or OT/Shootout loss tonight in Kerry Park, they can clinch that spot as the Wolves only have three games remaining in their schedule.
Braves Head Coach Brad Cook is breathing a small sigh of relief after the two wins, "We are glad that month [January] is gone and that we've put together a couple of wins, but we can also look at the past few weeks as a huge learning experience...it really made us all "man-up" and learn what we had to fix and come up with some solutions. I think we are coming out of the end of that stretch as a stronger and closer knit group as a result."
"I am happy at how close our two wins were in these past two games" added Cook. "I am not sure it would have done us much good to come out of our bad stretch with a big 8-0 win or something. I think it was good to go to OT last night and then have a close but solid game here tonight so that the boys learn how to win these close games."
After Kerry Park on Saturday, the Braves will finish their regular season with games against Westshore (Feb 6), Comox (Feb 8 at home) and Victoria (Feb 14).