The Peninsula Panthers head into 2023 on a winning note after beating the Westshore Wolves 3-2 in a shootout just before Christmas on Dec. 21.
Ryan Grambart, who leads his team and Vancouver Island Island Junior Hockey (VIJHL) in goals with 27, scored the lone goal in the shootout to give the Panthers the extra point. Grambart, who sits second in overall league scoring with 54 points behind Carter Johnson (61 points) of the league-leading Oceanside Generals, had also scored earlier as the Panthers and Wolves traded two goals in the second period with no scoring in the first and third period. Goalie Mason Kelly stopped 32 out of 34 shots for the victory.
Owner and general manager Pete Zubersky said the road victory mirrored the season so far.
“I thought we dominated the game for 40 minutes but were tied at 2-2 going into the third period and there was no change at the end of regulation,” he said. “We had the puck for almost the entire five-minute overtime but had to go to the shootout to eventually win it. Again a one-goal game.”
In fact, the Panthers played in 20 one-goal games so far with 12 breaking their way. The margins appear even thinner when considering that six of the Panthers’ eight one-goal losses happened either in the shootout or overtime.
“The number of games that have been decided by one goal thus far is something I have never seen and I don’t have an explanation,” said Zubersky. “Fortunately we have come out on the right side of most of them and as a result sit in a pretty good position coming down the home stretch.”
The Panthers’ record of 20 wins, six losses, five overtime losses and one shootout loss gives them 46 points, good enough for second place in the South Division, three points behind the Victoria Cougars, both teams having played 32 games. The Panthers sit five points ahead of the third-placed Saanich Predators. This position would give the Panthers home-ice advantage in a possible first-round playoff match-up.
Speaking of home-ice, it is something that the Panthers haven’t seen in nearly a month, having played their last home game on Dec. 9. They have since played five straight road games and will play one more on Jan. 3 against the Kerry Park Islanders before hosting the Predators on Jan. 6 at North Saanich’s Panorama Recreation Centre.
“I think our guys are really looking forward to some home cooking after having gone almost a month not playing in our home barn,” he said.
By that time, the Panthers also hope to be at full-strength for another deep playoff run. “We have a couple of pretty good players coming back after New Year’s, guys who have been out for almost the entire season and that will make our lineup much stronger.”
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