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The Victoria Cougars (21-19-2-1) hosted the Saanich Braves (23-16-2-2) Thursday in a veritable four-pointer at Archie Browning Arena. It was a tight, see-saw battle that Victoria won in overtime 6-5.
The Braves lead the South Division standings with 51 points in 44 games. They have just four games remaining in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League regular season, meanwhile, the Cougars sit in second place, tied in points with the Kerry Park Islanders (47), but have one game in-hand.
The teams traded a pair of goals each during the first period, with the Cougars opening the scoring early at 1:12 with a marker from 16-year-old Rowan Miller. The goal was assisted by Akila Sato-Gaudreau. Fifty seconds later, they were at it again, this time it was Prince George native Carl Ewart scoring at 2:02 from Alexander Benger and Matthew Sparrow.
It appeared that a route might be in the making, but the Braves came back with two of their own to end the period tied at two apiece.
Nineteen-year-old Dale McCabe buried one from the left faceoff circle during a powerplay with Gavin Grewal and Jake Wilhem assisting. Cougars’ Shane Kime was off for two minutes for tripping.
With a 1:09 remaining in the first period, the Braves tied it up with Michael Sproule scoring his 14th of the season, from in close. Jordan Strandlund picked up the only assist on the play.
The teams also traded two second period goals each, with the Braves’ Cameron LeSergent scoring at 1:51 from Kyle Mace and Ryan Strange. Sato-Gaudreau scored a powerplay marker at 12:11 while Wilhelm sat for two for interference.
Trevor Owens and Darwin Lakoduk traded goals at 16:31 and 19:33 respectively. Lakoduk’s was on the powerplay. The 18-year-old rookie signed with the Jr. A Victoria Grizzlies for the 2018-2019 season.
“Yeah I am really excited to play for the Grizzlies next season,” said the Vernon native. “I look forward to joining the team and playing where they put me.”
“It was a really good game, everyone worked hard,” shared Lakoduk. “We haven’t been our best lately and it was really good for everyone to step up. We had a few guys out of the line-up, a few guys hurt, so everyone contributed to the game.”
Two periods solved nothing as the teams skated to their respective dressing rooms with the score tied 4-4.
Again the teams exchanged goals during the third period. The Cougars were pressing, but the Braves were getting the shots off, they took 20 during the third period alone.
With Miller off for hooking, Grewal scored to put the Braves up 5-4 at 9:50. Wilhelm and McCabe assisted.
At 16:42 Jaden McNulty tied the score to send the game into overtime. Sato-Gaudreau and Kime assisted.
At 2:41 of overtime, McNulty carried the puck into the Braves’ zone, down the middle, cut to the left and dropped a backhand pass to Mateo Albitini. The left-handed forward wristed the puck from the right side under the right blocker of Mathieson for the win. Kime earned the second assist on the goal.
“I like how we came out strong, but we let them push back on us. Our special teams weren’t great, but the fact that our guys never gave up. It’s been awhile since I have seen this kind of hard work out of them,” said Coach Suneil Karod. “So it is good to see the guys push through.”
Shots were 50-32 for the Braves. The Braves powerplay went 4/5, while the Cougars 1/3.
Patrick Osterman earned first star honours in goal for the Cougars, while Riley Mathieson took the loss for the Braves.
Both teams go at it again Friday, but this time Victoria travels up-island to take on the Campbell River Storm, while the Braves host the first-place Nanaimo Buccaneers.
Puck drop is scheduled for 6:30 pm at Pearkes Arena.
Up island, the two North Division leaders went at it with the Campbell River Storm prevailing 5-3 over the Nanaimo Buccaneers, in Nanaimo.