It’s as close to civil war as it gets in old Saanich.
Nearly 250 people packed the stands to cheer their respective districts at Pearkes arena on Monday night as south battled north in Game 1 of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League semifinal. The southerly Saanich Braves won handily, 7-2 over North Saanich’s Peninsula Panthers.
But there’s destined to be more fight out of the seasoned warriors from the north, who’re the defending B.C. champs.
Game 2 goes 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Pearkes arena – Game 3 Friday at Panorama.
When two teams so close in geography meet in the playoffs, the added energy from the visiting fans is felt from the bench, said Braves coach Brad Cook.
In fact, despite a one-sided score in the Braves’ favour, Peninsula fans were just as vocal, if not more on Monday. So much so, that the Braves’ Facebook page admitted it in a plea for improved home support. And with the Victoria Cougars and Kerry Park Islanders in the other semifinal, it means every game is a short drive for fans to watch their team for the remainder of the VIJHL playoffs.
“It’s going to be nice for hockey in Victoria the next month,” Cook said. “When you think about it, most of the players on both teams are local, and they’re bringing 3-4 fans each. It means guaranteed full buildings the rest of the way.”
For last year’s Cougars vs. Panthers final series, Archie Browning was drawing crowds it hadn’t seen since the days when the Victoria Salsa played there, nearing the 1,000 mark.
And it’s great for the ownership groups. No more bus trips, double the gate revenue, and all that profit goes back into the team funds.
“Junior B isn’t a business people get into for profit,” Cook said. “The teams need that money.”
On the other hand, it means players and coaches are left to their daily routines, which means daily distractions.
“Riding the bus (up-Island) means everyone meeting together at 1 p.m. It gives everyone a chance to put work, school and family out of their minds. A chance to focus and decompress.”
And it worked. The Braves were over .500 on the road this year.
Now the team is hoping it can bring its army, er, fans, into battle with them at Panorama Friday (March 9) and Monday (Game 4).
The battle begins
All but three players from the Braves roster tallied a point in Monday’s 7-2 win.
Cook felt his squad stole its 2-0 lead in the first period of Monday’s win, which included a shorthanded goal by Sheldon Trees.
“We came out a bit timid,” Cook said. “There’s a fear factor because Peninsula just accomplished a pretty big feat upsetting Oceanside (Generals).”
After “tip-toeing” around in the first the Braves shut down the Panthers in the second and outscored Peninsula 3-1 in the frame on goals by Sam McMullen, Ty Jones and Sam Johnston.
The Braves rode the momentum with powerplay goals in third from Jones and Shawn McBride. Joe Densmore and Dane Gibson scored for Peninsula.
“We played a really great first period. We had a couple bad bounces and the game just seemed to get away from us,” Panthers owner Pete Zubersky said.
“We’re going to have to have a lot of intensity in Game 2 and as the series moves on,” Zubersky said. “We’ve got our hands full but we believe that we can come out on top.”
If anyone should feel confident going into this series against the defending VIJHL champs it’s the Braves.
In eight meetings this season, the Panthers won the first three, once in overtime and once in a shootout. The Braves then turned a corner, and dominated the Panthers for the remaining five games, winning 9-1, 7-3, 6-3, 11-0 and 4-2.
Game 1 also marked the return for a number of key members to the Braves. Jack Palmer, Hayden Long, Liam Sproule and goalie Tanner McGaw all missed one or more games due to injuries in the first round series win over the Campbell River Storm.
McGaw’s only game missed so far in the playoffs was Game 6, the series clincher against the Storm. Backup Bowman Rutledge replaced McGaw, and stopped 34 shots, while letting in just one goal as the Braves won in double overtime.
Saanich Braves lead Peninsula Panthers 1-0 in best-of-seven series
Game 1: Panthers 2 Braves 7Game 2: Wednesday, March 7 @ Pearkes 7:30 p.m.Game 3: Friday, March 9 @ Panorama at 7:30 p.m.Game 4: Monday, March 12 @ Panorama at 7:30 p.m.
If necessaryGame 5: TBAGame 6: TBAGame 7: TBA
Victoria Cougars lead Kerry Park Islanders 1-0 in best-of-seven seriesGame 1: Islanders 3 Cougars 4Game 2: Tuesday, March 6, Kerry Park Rec. Centre, 7:30 p.m.Game 3: Thursday, March 8, Archie Browning, 7:15 p.m.Game 4: Saturday, March 10, Kerry Park, 7:30 p.m.
If necessaryGame 5: Sunday, March 11, Archie Browning 3 p.m.Game 6: TBA at Kerry ParkGame 7: TBA at Archie Browning