Peninsula Panthers Goaltender Chris Akerman and #4 Skyler Diamond-Burchuk prevent Saanich Braves sniper Gavin Grewal from scoring in third period VIJHL action Friday night. (Gordon Lee Photography)

Panthers claw for playoff positioning

Panthers host the Nanaimo Buccaneers Friday for their final regular season visit

The Peninsula Panthers knocked off the visiting Saanich Braves 3-1 last Friday night in the confines of the Panorama Recreation Centre in an exciting nail-biter in front of a large partisan crowd. And the win moved the Club within a single point of the Westshore Wolves and Oceanside Generals as teams jockey for playoff positioning coming down the home stretch of the Regular Season. The Panthers are looking to slip by either or both of the two teams that they are chasing down to avoid a first round match-up with the VIJHL-leading Campbell River Storm.

“The Storm are a single win away from locking up the regular season crown,” explained Panthers’ GM Pete Zubersky. “Although we feel good about whomever we will lock horns with in the 1st round, it would be our preference to avoid the travel associated with playing up in Campbell River. We feel great in our barn and have won our last three of four at home against the Braves, Wolves and Cougars. We needed the win last Friday night and the kids responded. We have the Buccaneers in Friday and that’s an important game. We have five games remaining; four of them right here on the Peninsula and I really like our schedule coming home.”

The Panthers started quickly against the Braves with Matt Sparrow scoring from close in on a dish from power forward Jake Gajda and Josh Lingard, finding nothing but net on a short-handed breakaway giving the local squad a 2-0 lead just over eight minutes into the first frame. The visitors’ Jakob McQuillin replied shortly thereafter and the two Clubs went to the intermission with the ‘Cats’ clinging to the one-goal lead. At the 12:48 mark of the middle stanza, Panthers’ defenceman Alex Benger blasted a puck past Braves’ starter Anderson Violette, a shot that was by him so fast he never had a chance to blink. The tally closed the books on the scoring for the evening. Violette absorbed the loss blocking 22 of 25 Panthers’ attempts, while the ‘Cats’ stopper Chris Akerman pounced on the win blocking 25 of 27 shots along the way.

Head Coach Brad Tippet’s comments put an exclamation point on the importance of the victory. “That was basically a must win for us to retain the ability to control our own playoff destiny,” said the bench boss. “Akerman made some timely saves and was in control of his emotions. We focused on getting to the net on the rush and getting some traffic in front. Gajda took care of that for us all night long and we need everyone to do the same moving forward.”

The Panthers have another important contest this Friday as the club hosts the Nanaimo Buccaneers in for their final regular season visit. This game could be a preview of a first round matchup between the two Clubs, and that fact is not lost on either team. The puck is set to drop at 7:30 p.m.

Panthers Player of the Week:

Name: Annika McIntosh

Age: Age 10

Position: Defense

Team: Peninsula Atom C3

reporter@peninsulanewsreview

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