By Blake Moon
The Saanich Predators and the Victoria Cougars clashed in yet another amazing VIJHL matchup on Friday night at George Pearkes Arena! The Preds entered the contest with a record of 25-9-8 hoping to keep the momentum going into playoffs as they went 8-2 in the 10 games prior to Friday’s match up. The Cougars on the other hand sat one spot above the Predators in the South division with a record of 32-10-1 when they rolled into town; however, they too were holding onto a 8-2 record in their past 10 games meaning that only one of those teams would be leaving the matchup with an impressive 9-2 record in their past 11 games. And with playoffs a mere two weeks away, neither team was looking to succumb to the other, making this clash of the South division titans one for the ages!
This game started like most VIJHL games do, with both teams laying the body early in order to establish the tone for the remainder of the game. However, Saanich’s Colten Thompson decided to up the ante by attempting a “Michigan,” or lacrosse style goal in the first few minutes of the game. While the attempt was unsuccessful, it did give the game an element of excitement that proved to be beneficial for the Preds. For both teams, the vast majority of the first period was back and forth in terms of offensive possession, however, neither team had any particularly dangerous opportunities. Which was not due to a lack of offensive firepower from either squad, but from the two defensive groups that could only be described as stingy. Both teams’ D-corps did an excellent job of driving the opponent’s offense to the outside, making it difficult for either team to generate any lethal scoring chances. Both teams had a single opportunity on the man advantage, but both of them ended the same way roughly 83% of the league’s power plays do, with no goals scored. While both teams’ power plays moved the puck well and made good decisions in the offensive zone, neither club was able to solve the other’s penalty kill. Just when it looked like this period was going to end in a scoreless tie, Colten Thompson finally found a way to squeak one past Victoria’s Jesse Pye, who had an otherwise stellar first period performance. Even the lone goal in the first period was scored off a not particularly dangerous chance, but rather a good shot that was initially stopped by Pye, only for the puck to take an awkward bounce off of Pye’s stick to land in the back of the net. The Predators goal was assisted by Gaetz Barrie, and William Jenkins, who worked hard to demolish the stalemate, and allow the Preds to take a 1-0 lead into the second period.
The second period exploded out of the gate with a quick shift from the Cougars earning them a shot on goal and an offensive faceoff. However, said faceoff resulted in the Cougars winning the draw back to their defensemen who fired a shot on goal; which unfortunately for the Cougars, was blocked by Predators forward Thomas Jenkins sending the puck out of the zone effectively springing Jack Westhaver in on a breakaway where he made no mistake, slipping the puck five hole on Pye putting the Preds up by a pair of goals early in the second. The Cougars tried to get one back not long after the lead doubling tally, but Predators tendy Jaden Vanderlee was up for the task shutting down the Cougars best chance of the game up to that point. About midway through the second frame, the Cougars had some consecutive offensive zone time in which they converted their first goal of the game thanks to a wicked cross-zone saucer pass courtesy of Ryan Comisky. Which was immediately one-timed past Vanderlee by Ethan Roworth, getting the Cougars on the board making it a 2-1 game. With less than 10 minutes remaining in the middle period, the Cougars took a hit to the head penalty resulting in a game misconduct and a five minute major penalty, giving the Preds a potentially game ending opportunity. However, it was the Cougars who ended up capitalizing during this time, as only 7 seconds into the penalty, the Preds coughed up the puck to Ethan Roworth, resulting in a Cougars breakaway. Except before Roworth had a chance to shoot, he was slashed off the puck, sending him to center ice for a penalty shot. Roworth walked in making multiple moves, eventually sniping his second goal of the game going low blocker side on Vanderlee, once again deadlocking the game, this time at two goals a piece. The Cougars escaped the 5 minute major with a goal for, and no goals against as the second period came to a close with the score clock reading 2-2, making for an exciting winner-take-all third period.
The third period tore the roof off of this already pressurized game as the Preds defenseman Taylor Webb wired home a wrister past a screened Pye in order to re-establish the Preds lead only 32 seconds into the third. The Cougars put themselves behind the eight ball shortly after, heading back to the PK following a slashing call. Pye had to be sharp in order to keep this team only behind by a single goal, and once again he was up to the challenge stopping everything the Predators could throw at him. Halfway through the period, it was clear that neither team was comfortable calling this game just yet as the Predators kept their foot on the gas, while the Cougars continued to – pun very much intended – claw their way back into this game. As the clock continued to wind down in the final frame, both the Cougars and the Predators exchanged rushes, yet neither team was able to solve the other’s defense. The vast majority of both teams’ offensive possessions were directed away from the net, essentially negating any chance of this game seeing another goal. Until the Preds took a 4 minute slashing/unsportsmanlike penalty giving the Cougars a golden chance to tie this game up. The Cougars pulled the goalie giving them a 6 on 4 advantage with an offensive zone face off. The clock was against the Cougars with only a minute and forty six seconds left on the clock. The Cougars pushed the Predators to their breaking point looking for the chance to go to overtime, however, the Predators managed to cling to their lead taking the win at home!
Final score: Saanich Predators 3 – Victoria Cougars 2
This game had the intensity of a playoff game with both teams playing good enough to earn the win; although it was the Predators’ strong offensive game that put them over the top in this one. With only 5 combined goals between the two clubs it is easy to categorize this game as a defensive battle. Both teams displayed amazing defensive efforts with all 12 defenseman from both organizations playing a tight game. But as good as all the blue-liners played on Friday night, the real stars were the netminders. Jaden Vanderlee earned the W playing strong when he had to, giving his team the confidence they needed to win. Vanderlee made some massive stops on the way to a 35 save performance and can’t really be blamed for the two goals against him as one of them was a one timer tap in, and the other was a penalty shot. His counterpart, Jesse Pye, was lights out for the Cougars despite being stuck with an L on Friday night. Much like Vanderlee, it is hard to fault Pye on any of the three goals scored against him as the first goal was an unlucky bounce on his initial save, the second was a breakaway, and the third was a screen/friendly fire deflection. Pye kept the Cougars in this game, and if it weren’t for his clutch saves, this game could have ended differently for the Cougars. The Players of the Game as decided by the VIJHL were Ethan Roworth for the Cougars and Colten Thompson for the Predators and it was impossible to argue with these picks. While there were a multitude of players who had a great game on Friday, these two players absolutely stood out amongst their peers. Other players who I thought played great were of course both goalies, Pye and Vanderlee, but also Ryan Comisky for the Cougars and Taylor Webb for the Predators!
The Predators next contest is Saturday, February 11th, against the Port Alberni Bombers while the Cougars next see action on Thursday, February 16th against the Lake Cowichan Kraken! Make sure to stay locked onto VIJHL.com for the latest updates on your favourite teams from across Vancouver Island!