Game 2 of the VIJHL playoff series between the Saanich Braves and the Campbell River Storm goes Friday, 6:30 p.m. at Pearkes arena.
The Saanich Braves enter the playoffs feeling like contenders to win the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, despite finishing the regular season 25 points back of first place.
The Braves edged the Comox Valley Glacier Kings 4-1 in Comox on Saturday (Feb. 18), the team’s “best finish in many years,” said coach Brad Cook.
“It’s an ideal season, you peak, which we did with the nine-game win streak in the fall, and see what you’ve got (as a team), and then do it again (for the playoffs).”
Despite the Braves having the league’s top scorer and finishing with a three-game win streak, all eyes are on the Victoria Cougars. The Cougars finished with the best record among all 37 junior B teams in B.C. and are the heavy favourite to win the Brent Patterson Memorial Trophy, VIJHL championship.
“The Cougars are the main team going into playoffs and are expected to win,” Braves captain Ty Jones said. “We’re in a good position with home advantage for the first two rounds (at least). We’ve been battling Comox all season long, and I think we’re the dark horse to win it all.”
The “season-long” battle for second came to an end with the 4-1 win. Jones scored a goal and added two assists, tying him with Cougars forward Steve Axford for the scoring lead at 75 points each. They’ll share the Doug Morton Trophy, and it’s rumoured to be the first time that’s happened in league history.
“I’m happy to share it, it’s just an honour to get it. Obviously things are going well for me personally, but as a team we’re winning a lot, and expecting to win every game, which is exciting.”
Jones and his mom flew to western New York state last week courtesy of Elmira College. “I toured the campus and went to a (Soaring Eagles) men’s hockey game,” Jones said. The Soaring Eagles brass are hoping to land Jones for the 2012-13 NCAA Div. 3 men’s hockey season.
But first come the playoffs.
“The team’s a lot tighter these days and we’ve bought into the systems,” Jones said. “We’re pretty comfortable in that we know where each other’s going to be on the ice. Against the Storm, we have to make sure we work hard and back up our skill with physical play.”
Cook sees danger in the Storm’s tenacity.
“They have an extremely hard work ethic and it can be really frustrating to play against. They know they have to outwork opponents to win. It becomes unorthodox, and scrambly hockey that’s in your face, and you have to keep your discipline.”
In net, the Storm’s 6-foot-3 goalie – Nick Babich from Victoria who played last season in Peninsula – could be a problem for the Braves. With Babich in net, the Panthers came back after being down 3-0 to win four straight games and defeat the Cougars in the VIJHL final series last year. Then Panthers then went on to win the provincial championship.
“Babich has the ability to steal a game, we know that,” Cook said. “We have to be patient and pick our spots. He’s always square to the shooter on the first shot, we have to make him move.”