It may have been 16 years since the Saanich Braves last won the Island’s junior B title, but there are plenty of championships and players to celebrate this season as the team turns 45.
Current owners Ed Geric and Norm Kelly are leading the 45th anniversary celebration for the Braves, which started playing junior hockey in 1967, with a number of promotions.
One of the moves the Braves did was to hire artist Lucas Bell to design a 45th anniversary logo. Lucas’ brother Chris is a former captain of the team and last winter Lucas designed the Braves’ VIJHL all-star logo.
“We want to embrace the community and are welcoming Braves alumni back. This team has been around for a long time and a lot of great people have come through here,” Kelly said.
The Braves most notable alumnus is Adam Cracknell, who played for the 2010-11 St. Louis Blues and was captain of the Blues’ AHL affiliate Peoria Rivermen last year.
Recent pros and NCAA players who came through the Braves in the last decade are Lee Baldwin of the New York Rangers AHL affiliate Connecticut Whale, and Brian Nugent of the NCAA’s Northern Michigan University. Both suited up for the 2009 RBC Cup hosting Victoria Grizzlies. The Crowder brothers Paul and Tim also wore the Braves crest before hockey took them to the NCAA, ECHL, AHL and Europe. Both played under former Braves coach Dick Crowder, their dad.
“We’ve always got a guy moving up to to junior A or the WHL,” Kelly said. “And we’re off to a great start this season. The stands are full and I don’t know if that’s because we’re winning, but we’ve got a great team right now.”
It can’t hurt that the first 45 fans at last Friday’s game, an 8-0 win over the Kerry Park Islanders, were treated to a coupon for a free Subway sandwich.
It was the Braves third win in three nights, with a 5-2 win over the Westshore Wolves on Wednesday and 5-2 win over the Nanaimo Buccaneers on Thursday.
“Friday was a great showing, the score aside, no matter who we were playing we were responsible and competed really hard,” Braves head coach Brad Cook said.
“This year the maturity is showing for us. Last year we lost eight one-goal games, but we got the core group back who learned how to win those close games and so far we’ve been able to grind them out,” Cook said.
The Braves’ season continues on Friday when members of the Canadian national rugby team, which will suit up for the Americas Rugby Championship in Langford in two weeks, will be on hand to drop the puck, 6:30 p.m. at Pearkes arena versus the Buccaneers.
The Braves are steeped in the legacy of the league. From 1978 to 1996, the Braves won six Brent Patterson Memorial trophies as the top team in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. The trophy, however, wasn’t renamed in Patterson’s honour until later. A former Braves player, Patterson was the VIJHL MVP in 1977. He died shortly after leaving a game at the 1977 Cyclone Taylor Cup in Quesnel from heart complications.