Sam Rice scored the winning goal on the power play to make it 3-2 as the Victoria Cougars eliminated the Saanich Braves from the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League playoffs with a 5-2 win, Sunday at Archie Browning Sports Centre.
The Cougars were slapped with the game’s first six penalties but stayed the course to take the South final in five games. They’ll face the winner of the North division final in the VIJHL final. As of Monday, the Nanaimo Buccaneers led the Comox Valley Glacier Kings 2-1.
“We wanted to play our game, not worry about what they did and send everything towards the net and it worked out for us,” said Cougars assistant captain Graham Zagrodney. “We didn’t draw as many penalties as we usually do but we still found a way to win.”
It’s the second-straight trip to the Island final for Zagrodney, a trade deadline acquisition last year who hopes to lift the Brent Patterson Memorial Trophy as league champions again.
Zagrodney picked up six points in the series against the Braves, including two assists on Sunday, and leads all defencemen in playoff scoring with 13 points.
The Braves eventually opened the scoring when they capitalized on their sixth power play on Sunday to make it 1-0 from Josh McGladery.
The next power play went to the Cougars, however, and the nation’s top ranked junior B team made no mistake as Dane Feeney scored his ninth of the playoffs. Feeney ended the game with three points and leads the VIJHL playoff scoring race with 26.
Mark Walton scored at even strength to give the Cougars a 2-1 lead at the end the second period. Five minutes into the third period McGladery scored his second of the game to tie it 2-2. The Braves pressed and, with the desperation of a team on the brink, took control of the tempo with six minutes left.
With the pressure came a turn of undisciplined play as the Braves were hit with back-to-back penalties in the final five minutes. The Cougars scored on both power plays. Sam Rice first, with the winner on a rebound, then Brody Coulter with a lucky tip that slowly flipped up and over Braves goalie Tanner McGaw in an arc.
Walton sealed the game with an empty netter.
“Saanich was a really good team this year and they gave us a good fight. Now we get a bit of rest and prepare for the next one,” Zagrodney said.
For the Braves, it was the end of an injury-plagued season.
“It definitely hurts to lose the top forward in the league in the first 45 seconds of playoffs,” said McGaw of the Braves captain, Ty Jones.
“To battle through playoffs without your top player against a healthy (Cougars) team, it’s hard to compete. Injuries happen, it’s just unfortunate they had to happen to us.”
And the injuries didn’t stop happening, as the goalie picked up a dislocated finger on his right hand in the final minutes on Sunday. That’s in addition to the yet-to-be-determined calf injury on his left leg, which kept the VIJHL goalie of the year from Game 4 of the South final.
But the calf wasn’t hurt enough to keep him from coming back to see if he could finish what he started as a 16-year-old call-up in 2009, when he stole two wins opening round of the playoff wins from the Cougars. Prior to joining the Braves, McGaw and current Cougars starter Evan Roch, were a goaltending tandem on the Saanich midget AA Braves. They lost to Port Alberni in the Island final.
“It’s my last year. I couldn’t sit in the stands thinking, ‘Is there anything I can do?,'” McGaw said.
McGaw, Ty Jones, Josh Gray and Justin Polischuk are all possibles to continue their hockey careers at an NCAA university.
Braves goalie Tanner McGaw played parts of five seasons with the Braves.
Jake Stolz, No. 2, looks for a loose puck under fallen Brave Sam Johnston.