Game night Dec. 2:
Braves host Comox Valley Glacier Kings, 6:30 p.m. at Pearkes Arena.
This, that and everything has the Saanich Braves rolling through the Island’s junior hockey league on a seven-game win streak, unbeaten throughout the month of November.
Coach Brad Cook is so enthusiastic with the way his team has come together, he can’t point to anything that isn’t going well right now.
“I’ve told the guys it’s OK if we stumble, as long as we don’t fall. After you win seven or more – however long it goes – the next step (once the streak ends) is not to go out and lose seven of the next 10.”
But losing is the last thing on this team’s mind. The stretch began with the team’s annual Pink in the Rink breast cancer fundraiser back on Oct. 30, a 5-3 win over the Victoria Cougars.
It was the second night of a home-and-home series with the Cougars, who were the Braves’ latest victims on Friday (Nov. 25). That game ended 4-2 with a brawl that saw eight player ejections. It was a show of frustration from the Cougars though they retained the league’s best record.
Of course there are a few key elements the Braves couldn’t do without. Goalie Tanner McGaw is in top form. The rookies are developing quickly, with Jack Palmer (25 points) and Connor Krupa (21 points) averaging more than a point per game. And perhaps most important, captain Ty Jones has racked up a multi-point game for every win during the streak, totalling 30 points in the last 12 games.
Overall, the team is buying every little thing Cook’s been preaching about.
“All our systems — team defence, guys back-checking, puck management — they’re sticking to it.”
Saying the Braves’ dressing room is a fun place to be right now is an understatement, Cook added.
“It’s the time of their lives. The biggest thing I like is it’s 100 per cent about the team. We don’t have any one guy pulling in a different direction.”
Cook knows a thing or two about upbeat junior dressing rooms.
The Michigan native was on the “stacked” 1993-94 Detroit Jr. Red Wings in the Ontario Hockey League that finished second overall during the regular season and was defeated in the finals by the North Bay Centennials. The Jr. Red Wings were owned by current Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos, and was coached by Paul Maurice with Jim Rutherford as general manager. It’s the same triangle of management that was only broken up Monday when Maurice was relieved as head coach of the Hurricanes.
Cook was cut in 1995, but found his way to the Vernon Vipers where he won an RBC Cup.
He said his first step since returning to the Braves this year after a season away was teaching the team how to win.
“We lost about six one-goal hockey games and our third periods were our worst periods. Now it’s like, where do we go from here? It’s only November. So we’re taking these things in steps.”
It’s about a mix of young guys finding their game and older guys getting back to theirs.
“The younger guys were away at BCHL and WHL camps to start the year. They’re working their butts off all summer to make those other teams and when we finally get them they’re in great shape. It’s the 18-, 19- and 20-year-old guys who take a couple of months to get in shape. They’re working full time, some live on their own, and they’re playing out their junior years. They’re not as fit over the summer but they know they’re going to be the better players in this league once they find their game.”
General manager and part owner Norm Kelly has been with the team for four years. The biggest win streak in that time was six in a row in 2009, also with Cook as head coach.
“This is the best year in terms of focus, drive and player dedication since I’ve been here,” Kelly said. “There are no bad apples, the guys love being together, they’re very self-motivated and want to succeed.”
It means all kinds of options for Cook, who relishes having four lines he can rely on, with rookies he can play in any situation. Because the Braves started so poorly (2-7), they’d need to extend the streak a couple more weeks before they’ll be anywhere close to the Cougars for first in the south division.