The Peninsula Panthers started 2022 as they finished 2021 – on a winning streak.
The run stood at eight games prior to their Wednesday night match against the Westshore Wolves, itself merely a prelude to the coming show down against the Victoria Cougars Friday at North Saanich’s Panorama Recreation Centre.
“This game (against Victoria) is shaping up to be a big one,” general manager and owner Pete Zubersky said Sunday. “We are now only a singe point behind the Cougars, albeit, they have three games in hand. But we have closed the gap and are now ready to leapfrog them if we can continue our hot streak.”
What a streak it has been. It hit eight during a rare Sunday home matinee when Panthers dispatched the Saanich Predators 10-3. Four goals in fewer than eight minutes of play in the second period – including three powerplay goals broke up a 3-3 tie with three more goals in the third period completing the rout. Denver Maloney scored a hat trick, while brothers Riley and Payton Braun combined for three goals. Riley also added four assists.
Sunday’s victory came after the Panthers had swept the Kerry Park Islanders in a home-and-away series. The Panthers first won 6-3 on home ice Wednesday. Leading 3-2 in the third period, they exploded for three goals in fewer than four minutes to dispatch the visitors. They were even more ruthless the next night on the other side of the Saanich Inlet. Three goals in the first and two more in the second period left no doubt about the game’s outcome. Perhaps the only beauty mistake was the lone Kerry Park goal in the third period spoiling Ashton Lukan’s shutout.
“The offence was clicking on all cylinders as we scored 23 goals in our last three games while giving up just 7,” said Zubersky. “Our power play is the best I have ever seen in the VIJHL in the last 20 years and watching it is worth the price of admission every single night.”
As it was the case against Saanich (and all season long), the Braun brothers appeared all over the score sheet in the twin bill against Kerry Park, with Riley now leading Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) in scoring with 36 goals and 56 assists for 92 points. Riley’s brother Payton sits in third place with 64 points, while their teammate Logan Speirs sits in second place with 77 points.
“Riley Braun is smashing every single all-time franchise scoring record on a nightly basis and Logan Speirs has at least a point a game in all 38 games we have played this season,” said Zubersky. “Both situations are unprecedented.”
Friday’s showdown against the Cougars is the Panthers’ second-to-last game before the Jan. 10 trade deadline and both Zubersky and head coach Brad Tippett have irons in the fire right now. “We believe we have a real chance to do something special in the playoffs and we are not leaving any stone unturned and have been in many conversation with other (general manager) around the league as we try to make our club better.”
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