It’s been a roller coaster season for most teams in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League this year.
It usually is.
Saanich Braves coach Brad Cook, for one, is thrilled the ride is over.
The second-place Braves (30-14-3) will face the third-place Westshore Wolves (27-19-1) in the first round of the South division playoffs starting next week. The first-place Victoria Cougars (44-1-1) will face the fourth-place Peninsula Panthers (21-23-3).
Two months ago the Braves would have been the automatic favourite to win the first round series but now they’re closer to being the underdog, having limped through January with three wins in 11 games.
On the bright side, the Braves did win three of its first four games in February. But the only loss was also the Braves’ fourth straight to the expansion Wolves.
Therefore it’s the Wolves who are the favourite, despite sitting eight points back of the Braves with one game left in the season.
“I’ve had a lineup on paper that I’ve wanted to see hit the ice all season and I’m finally seeing it now,” Cook said. “We’re collectively healthy, for the most part, which is a huge step.”
Officially, the first game with the desired lineup was a 5-4 loss to the Wolves on Wednesday, Feb. 6.
“We took the loss hard because we didn’t perform well, we lost with 40 seconds to go but we had no business being in that hockey game anyways,” Cook said.
Still, the Braves feel their chances are good. They bounced back with an 8-3 win over the Comox Valley Glacier Kings thanks to production from all three scoring lines, Cook said.
He also pointed to the fourth line, or grind line of Seamus Maguire, Josh McGladdery and Sam Johnston, for doing a fantastic job on the penalty kill.
“They give us that push back when we need it. They don’t always produce but do their job to a T.”
The Cougars and not-so-sweetheart rivals Braves meet Feb. 14, 7 p.m. at Archie Browning Sports Centre for a Valentines Day finale to the regular season.
The Wolves closed the season out Wednesday night with a 4-2 win over the Panthers at Bear Mountain Arena.