The Peninsula Panthers are rounding into form after sweeping their Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) games over the weekend.
The Panthers first continued their dominance of the Nanaimo Buccaneers with a 6-0 victory on home ice Friday night at North Saanich’s Panorama Recreation Centre, then squeezed out a narrow victory 4-3 over the Kerry Park Islanders Saturday night on the other side of the Saanich Inlet.
“I was enjoying my first cup of coffee this morning thinking how Sunday is much more relaxed after two wins,” said Brad Tippett, head coach.
The two victories push the Panthers to the .500 line based on available points, the Panthers having four wins, four victories and one shoot-out loss after nine games for a total of nine points. While the Victoria Cougars (nine wins out of nine games) and Campbell River Storm (nine wins out of 10 games) have dominated the league so far, the Panthers now find themselves firmly in the league’s second-tier after an inconsistent start.
Individually, several Panthers rank among the best in the league with three Panthers among the league’s top 10 scorers. Riley Braun leads league scoring with nine goals and 12 assists. His brother Payton ranks sixth with 17 points, the same number as teammate Logan Speirs.
While the Braun brothers added to their scoring totals during Friday’s game against the Buccaneers, the Panthers rode a balanced attack and special teams on the way to victory as their powerplay scored three times on six opportunities. This said, Tippett warned against reading too much into Friday’s one-side scored, which actually marked an improvement for the visitors, who had lost 14-1 to the Panthers back on Sept. 23.
“Friday was a far more difficult game to play than the score indicated,” said Tippett. “Nanaimo simply collapsed all (five) skaters down tight to the front of the net. It was hard to get any pucks through to the net. We felt like we were playing against (six) goalies. We made some adjustments and began getting some penetration on the rush. I liked our patience and just stuck to the game plan.”
By the end of the game, the discipline of the visitors had evaporated.
“It got a little goofy at the end with some of the Bucs running around,” said Tippett. “We picked up a couple of injuries. I told the players the best thing about the game was it was over and we are done with them for this year.”
Teams from VIJHL’s south and north divisions play each other just twice each season.
The Kerry Park Islanders, meanwhile, proved tougher opponents for the Panthers. Like they did on Sept. 24, the Panthers jumped out to a 4-1 lead against the Islanders. Goals by Aleko Sdrakas, Owen Cox, Speirs and Riley Braun appeared to put the Panthers on the road to certain victory halfway through the second period, before the Islanders stormed back with three goals to tie the game. But the stalemate lasted less than 90 seconds as Riley scored his second goal of the evening and ninth goal of the season to push the Panthers into the lead, which they never surrendered.
“Kerry Park was a revenge game for us, and we just about gave an encore performance blowing another 4-1 lead,” said Tippett. “This time we were not entirely to blame. It was great to get a win in a tight one-goal game on the road. Adversity does not build character – it reveals it. We got the job done.”
The Panthers return to action on the road Wednesday against the Port Alberni Bombers, followed by a home-and-home series against the Comox Valley Glacier Kings. The Panthers first host the Glacier Kings Friday night at Panorama Recreation Centre before travelling to Comox Valley for the return leg. The Panthers return to home ice on Monday for a rare 1 p.m. game against the Saanich Predators as part of the Thanksgiving weekend lineup.
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