The Saanich Braves have advanced to the second round of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League playoffs with a 4-2 best-of-seven series win over the Kerry Park Islanders.
It ended on Friday with a 4-0 shutout by Braves goalie Anderson Violette at Pearkes.
The fifth-seed Braves will now face the first-seed Campbell River Storm in a rematch of the 2018 VIJHL final that the Storm won in Game 7. The first two games are Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m. in Campbell River, with Games 3 and 4 at Pearkes, 6 p.m. on Monday and 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
Despite finishing atop the league in the 2018-19 season standings the Storm dropped to a 3-1 deficit to the eighth-seed Peninsula Panthers in the first round.
“It’s exciting to go to the second-round [against the Storm], they’re coming off a grind with Peninsula, they’re playing good hockey,” said Braves coach and general manager Sam Waterfield.
It’s been an interesting year as the Braves shot out to a 12-0-1 record and didn’t drop their first regulation loss until Game 13 against the Westshore Wolves on Oct. 19. The Braves then lulled with a mediocre record before slowly picking up their game and resembling the team that was within a win of the 2018 VIJHL Patterson Memorial Trophy.
“Come February the team started to sense the excitement for the playoffs, we played better and stuck to our game plan and got results,” Waterfield said.
In the first round the Braves took Games 1 and 2 on the road in Kerry Park 6-3 and 3-1. The 2-0 lead was the cushion Braves they needed as the Islanders and Braves then split the next four games. Kyle Mace stood out in Game 1 for the Braves as the 20-year-old potted a hat trick, matching a fifth of his regular season goals in one game. Mace is tied for the team lead in playoff scoring at seven points with Gavin Grewal.
Mace’s game matches up nicely with the playoffs, when the hockey is grittier and it can be harder to earn space, Waterfield said.
“[Mace] plays physical and the intensity he brings suits the playoffs well,” Waterfield said. “Obviously the refs let a little bit more physicality go in the playoffs.”
Round 2 starts with the first two games in Campbell River.
“Both rosters have seen a lot of changes over the last 12 months, Game 1 will be a little bit of a feeling process,” Waterfield said. “There’s still some bad blood from last year that will elevate the temperature. It’ll get there quickly.”