With the standings in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League becoming ever so tight, the Peninsula Panthers dug in their claws and split a pair of games.
Friday evening in front of the home faithful, the club wasted no time getting the Oceanside Generals to stand at attention tallying three unanswered goals in the first 20 minutes of play. The Panthers never looked back, winning 5-3.
Joe Densmore gave the Panthers the lead three minutes in and added another late in the first to sandwich a marker by 16-year-old Fraser Sutherland. The Generals scored two goals in the second period, but Panthers captain Jake Bryan continued his knack for scoring with his reply. The Generals’ Taylor Gray scored 56 seconds into the third period, but when the Panthers’ Josh Bloomenthal closed out the scoring four minutes later, it would be all she wrote for the Generals.
The Panthers were missing goaltending tandem Kylar Stern and Zach Wear due to injury, but 16-year-old call-up Stephen Heslop stopped 37 shots for the win. The young ’tender was acrobatic and brought the crowd to its feet as he handled the puck beyond the confines of his crease. He was named the game’s first star.
“Stephen’s puck handling was well beyond his years,” said coach Rob Armstrong. “He was calm and decisive in moving the puck to his wingers and he even surprised me when he managed to clear the zone while we were short-handed.”
The night before, Heslop was also between the pipes as the Panthers travelled across town to battle the Victoria Cougars. He was on the losing end of a 3-1 count in his junior debut. Ryan Hunter was the lone marksman for the Panthers.
“The game was physical and filled with emotion,” said Armstrong. “The penalty kill units did a super job killing off every one of Victoria’s seven power play opportunities. It hurt when we lost Wear midway through the first, but I thought that Heslop did an excellent job when he was forced to jump in there cold.”
Wear left the game and got 12 stitches after he was cut by a Cougars skate.
The Panthers host the Saanich Braves at Panorama Recreation Centre on Friday night, Jan. 20, at 7:30 p.m.