Two teams wore the same Peninsula Panthers’ uniform over the weekend as the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League club split their two games.
When Logan Speirs sealed the Panthers’ 6-4 home victory against league-leading Victoria with an empty-net goal in front of a home crowd at Panorama Recreation Centre, the team sent a message to the rest of the league. Less than 48 hours later, they found themselves on the losing end of a crushing 8-3 defeat against the Saanich Braves.
This Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde imitation was not lost on team officials. “I have been around the [junior] game for a lot of years and the one thing you can always count on in junior hockey is that you cannot count on anything,” quipped Pete Zubersky, the team’s general manager. “This weekend proved just that.”
Friday night, the Panthers battled back not once, but twice from deficits. Trailing early in the third period after Victoria’s go-ahead goal, the Panthers punished the Cougars on consecutive penalties, scoring two powerplay goals in less than three minutes to take the lead. The Panthers’ leading trio of Lingard, Tanner Wort, and Riley Braun racked up five out of the six possible points during this decisive phase of the game. The Panthers then protected the lead until Speirs’ clinching goal.
“I thought our club played their hearts out Friday night, they were ready to go and deserved the win, what a game,” said Zubersky.
Friday’s emotional high was short-lived as the Saanich Braves, 24 points behind the Panthers heading into Sunday’s afternoon game, scored eight goals on 30 shot including an empty-netter in their victory against the Panthers, who shot the puck 60 times.
“On Sunday, their goaltender stood on his head and although we doubled the shots on the Braves, they came out on top where it counted,” said Zubersky.
Connor Cheyne, who had previously played for the Braves, took the loss.
The Panthers will look to make amends, but not before the right lessons from the weekend, which has left them in second place overall, three points behind the Cougars, who have three games in hand, with the playoffs on the horizon.
“We can’t get too high or too low,” said Zubersky. “We have 13 games left before playoffs and it’s time that we buckled down and started to work at being playoff ready. It has to start from the goaltender on out, simplify the game, get pucks out and get pucks in. That is the formula of winning hockey and always has been.”
The Panthers will head to Archie Browning Arena on Thursday night to take on the Cougars before returning to Panorama on Friday, when they will host the North Division-leading Oceanside Generals, with a large crowd expected to watch the puck drop at 7:30 p.m.
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