The Peninsula Panthers are closing out 2018 with the most important weekend of their VIJHL regular season in the rearview mirror.
The club racked up an important 4-2 win over the Kerry Park Islanders at home on Friday followed by a 4-1 road victory at the Archie Browning Arena against the Victoria Cougars Sunday afternoon.
The team agrees they felt like a much better squad than their record indicated and this past weekend gave the organization and Panthers’ fans a glimpse into what the future could hold.
In a pre-game meeting Friday, Coach Brad Tippett said the players were challenged and the discussion centred on how success is directly linked to commitment.
“The level of the players’ commitment to put the team first, to put his body in danger, to play through pain and to do what is needed to get the job done was the focus,” Tippett explains. “We had gone a few games where that was missing. In the last two games, that commitment was as strong as we have seen this season. We had multiple guys playing 100 per cent while not being 100 per cent healthy.”
On the ice, Logan Speirs, Bryson Hines and Jonah Ragsdale scored for the Panthers to give the club a 3-2 lead going into the final minute of play.
After pinning the Islanders in their zone for over 90 seconds in the final two minutes, the visitors finally managed to get the puck into the neutral zone with only 15 seconds left and promptly pulled their goaltender for the extra attacker in hopes of potting the equalizer.
But Panthers’ forward Tanner Wort had a different idea.
He intercepted a puck near his own blue line, lugged it back into the visitors end and then deftly sent a 45’ shot into the wide open cage for the insurance marker. Chris Akerman picked up the win in goal, making a couple of sensational saves along the way.
On Sunday, the game played out much the same way in Esquimalt.
Josh Lingard, Alex Benger and Thomas Spink had given the Panthers a 3-1 lead over the Cougars and with over two minutes left in the contest, the Cougars pulled their netminder for the extra attacker.
Benger cleared a puck from harm’s way in his own zone, dumping it high into the neutral zone. The puck took a fortuitous bounce past the last Cougars’ defender and that miscue allowed Panthers’ David Edgar to skate unabated to the gaping cage for the insurance goal and a 4-1 lead and win.
“Akerman gave us back to back games of solid goaltending and saves at critical times,” Tippett said. “Our best players were our best players. Role players played their roles well and chipped in. Visscher and Hines did whatever was required. Diamond-Burchuk provided some extra jump on the blue line with his ability to move pucks ahead.”
Tippett said whenever a goal was given up, the team “answered right back” with quick goals. “Our efforts and puck management in the first and last two minutes of each period was much, much better.”
The Panthers will head to George Pearkes Arena Friday for a game against the Saanich Braves at 6:30 pm where Tippett said the team needs “one more solid effort” before a two-week break for Christmas.
The Panthers will return home to Panorama Recreation Centre to face the Kerry Park Islanders on Jan. 4 at 7:30 p.m.