Guess who heads the standings in the South Division of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League?
The Peninsula Panthers find themselves in the division’s penthouse after a convincing 6-2 road win over the Victoria Cougars Sunday afternoon. With first place in the division on the line, the Panthers played perhaps their best game against the Cougars this season. Leading 2-1 after the first period and 4-2 after the second period, two goals in the final frame sealed the victory that pushed the Panthers past the Cougars in the standings, with the proviso that the Cougars have three games in hand on the Panthers.
While Logan Speirs and Riley Braun each collected four points, general manager and owner Pete Zubersky stressed the completeness of the team’s performance. “(Every) single one of our guys completely bought into their role and it showed,” he said. “We have great speed and used it in all three zones, that was a real difference in the game.” So too was the goal-tending. In early October, the Panthers found themselves in the middle of the pack, playing inconsistent hockey, partly because of their goaltending.
Since the acquisition of Ashton Lukan from Port Alberni in mid-October as the team’s main starter and ably backed up by Brad Kelly, who also joined the team later, any previous concerns about goaltending have disappeared. This was the case again against the Cougars, as Lukan stopped 24 out of 26 shots. “Lukan was solid for 60 minutes in goal and kept them from getting close after we took the lead,” said Zubersky.
Sunday’s showdown for first place became possible after the Panthers beat the Saanich Predators 5-4 on home ice at Panorama Recreation Centre. While below the Panthers in the standings, the Predators have proven themselves pesky opponents in recent weeks. Friday’s game confirmed this aspect yet again, as the Panthers blew a 4-1 lead after the first period, to see themselves tied 4-4 halfway through the third period. Speirs then broke the deadlock in favour of the home team.
“We went to the penalty box too often and just could not get some momentum going but we did enough to win,” said Zubersky.
Friday’s game also included several personal and league high-marks. Kelly stopped 30 out of 34 shots, while Speirs’ point-scoring streak now stands at 42 games. But arguably the most important achievement belongs to Riley Braun, whose assist on the goal of his brother Payton was the 100th of the season, only the fourth time in VIJHL recent history that the three-digit mark has been hit.
Zubersky said the team looks forward to the rest of the regular season. “We are as healthy as we have been all year which is great considering we are heading into the playoffs in four weeks,” he said. There was a lot of good things happening this weekend. We have to build on what we accomplished in the two wins.”
The Panthers return to action on Jan. 28, when they host the Westshore Wolves at 7:30 p.m.
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