It’s the series many wished to see, as the powerhouse Victoria Cougars face the Saanich Braves.
And it started Sunday with a 5-1 Cougars’ win at Archie Browning Sports Centre.
But all is not what it seems.
“The score wasn’t reflective of the game, it was more of a 1-0 goal game,” said Cougars assistant coach Suneil Karod.
“They’re a strong team and they’re going to retool. We have to be ready.”
Game 2 is Monday (March 4), 7:30 p.m. at Pearkes. Game 3 is Thursday (March 7) at Archie Browning.
The Cougars took the lead early in Sunday’s matinee with a power play goal by Ben Kinshella.
The rest of the first period played out fairly evenly after that until, with four skaters aside, Cougars defenceman Brandon Egli ripped a point shot off a faceoff to make it 2-0 with 90 seconds left. Nathan Chen-Mack scored three minutes into the second period to make it 3-0. Though it looked liked the Braves wouldn’t recover, they nearly did.
“Once we got ahead and it was status quo, no one really taking any chances. I thought the Braves had the better scoring chances in the last two periods, we just made the most of our opportunities,” Karod said.
“Actually our penalty kill was pretty good, we know they have an unreal power play at it only scored two goals. But we’ve got to stop taking penalties in the offensive zone and when we’re on the powerplay,” said Braves assistant captain Sam McMullen.
The Braves started the second period two-men short due to a bench minor as the first period ended. Though the Braves survived the penalty, it hurt their chances of starting strong in the second.
“It’s frustrating when you don’t see the calls going your way, but you’re wasting your energy if you yell at the ref. I’ve never seen a ref change his call by being yelled at,” McMullen said. “We need to control what we can control.”
The Braves started the third period with a goal from Max Mois, when he tipped a pass in from Josh Gray. But the Braves couldn’t beat Cougars netminder Evan Roch, who made 19 saves on 21 shots.
Finally with two minutes some of the Braves lost their discipline and sat back, allowing the Cougars to score a power play goal by Mark Walton and a short-handed breakaway goal by defenceman Graham Zagrodney to put the game away.
Goalie Tanner McGaw was strong for the Braves despite letting in five goals. He made 29 on 34 shots, including some clutch stops to keep the game close.
For Egli, a midseason Victoria Grizzlies cut who scored the second goal of the game, it was his first goal since returning after a month off with an inconclusive upper body injury.
“There was some second opinions sought, we didn’t really find out what it was,” he said.
Ultimately, it was just time that he needed.
“(It) felt good enough getting the goal (Sunday). I’ve just jumped back into the game here and still getting my rhythm.”
The Cougars only non-healthy scratch on Sunday was veteran defenceman Rhys Williams who is due back for Monday. The Braves were without big defenceman Brandon Parmar on Sunday.