Braves season ends one goal short of making VIJHL final

Alarming finish to Saanich Braves season in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League

James Kellington's junior career ended with the Saanich Braves loss in Game 7 of the VIJHL semifinals to the Peninsula Panthers.

James Kellington's junior career ended with the Saanich Braves loss in Game 7 of the VIJHL semifinals to the Peninsula Panthers.

The Saanich Braves hockey season went up in smoke last Saturday.

The Braves surrendered a 3-1 series lead in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League semifinals and were eliminated by the Peninsula Panthers in Game 7.

There was no fire, but there was a fire alarm, and with somewhat controversial timing.

Three minutes into the first overtime period, the fire alarm at Pearkes arena was pulled and disrupted the game. Play resumed after a lengthy break, and Panthers forward Ryan Hunter scored five minutes into the second overtime to win 3-2.

“Kudos to the Peninsula Panthers,” said one hockey coach, unrelated to the two teams. “If whoever pulled the fire alarm did it on behalf of the Panthers, good for them. It was clear they were rolling that top line every second shift.”

That line – Trevor Yee, Joe Densmore and David Stephens – connected for the 2-2 tying goal in the second period, Densmore from Yee and defenceman Chris MacDonald.

But the alarm provided a rest for both teams, and had no outcome on the game, said Braves coach Brad Cook.

“It was random, that’s for sure. I’ve been in that rink for seven years and never seen it happen. But it had no bearing on the game. Though I’m not sure how (Peninsula’s) developing those kids on the bench with the top line playing so much.”

The win completed the Panthers’ comeback from a 3-1 series deficit to kill the Braves’ season.

“Peninsula got better as the series went on,” Cook said. “They fell into a comfort zone with what would work against us, and identified some of our weaknesses.”

Panthers goalie Stephen Heslop was solid, as both he and Braves goalie Tanner McGaw faced 56 shots in Game 7.

“You weren’t going to get a soft one on Heslop,” Cook said. “We didn’t do a good enough job of getting him to move.”

It’s a bittersweet ending to a season with high expecations for the Braves. The Braves have not won the VIJHL since 1996, and have not been in the final since 2006.

On the positive side, it was an unpredicatble series, Cook said. Thirteen games in three weeks is a great experience for the younger Braves, many of whom will play two to three more years of junior hockey.

“This team went from a 12-win season (last year) to the verge of making the finals and packing the rink with fans. We’re pretty happy with the season.”

Braves captain Ty Jones ended the season tied for the VIJHL scoring lead and is the leading contender for the Jamie Benn Trophy as league MVP.

Jones returned from junior A this season and carried the Braves to second overall. He also helped linemate Jack Palmer win the rookie scoring title.

Who returns to the Braves in 2012-13 is already up in the air, with Jones debating a return to junior A and a chance at a Div. 1 scholarship in the NCAA.

Palmer is expected to stick with the Brandon Wheat Kings next year, having played two games as a callup in October.

The Braves official prospects’ camp is set for July 6 to 8 at Pearkes arena.