Panthers hold edge for first

For the second straight year, the Peninsula Panthers are a cat’s paw closer to first place overall than the Victoria Cougars.

Prior to each club’s Thursday night game, they were tied with 64 points apiece, the advantage going to Peninsula for having one win more than Victoria.

If Peninsula hang on it will be their second year winning the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League regular season standings.

It’s been a long road back to first for the Panthers. The team was down to two regular defencemen coming out of Christmas break.

“We had forwards back on defence and affiliates coming in to fill the gap,” Panthers coach Jackson Penney said.

Peninsula defeated Saanich 4-2 on Sunday. The game was tied 2-2 to start the third period. When the Panthers pulled ahead with two goals, the Braves erupted with fisticuffs.

“(The Braves) work hard, blue collar like, and they don’t give up,” Penney said. The penalties ended up one-sided, with two Saanich players each topping the 30-minute mark.

Neither team was expected to carry a grudge into last night’s tilt (after PNR deadline).

“Maybe they were frustrated, but we’re hunting for first place and we have to stay disciplined,” Penney said.

With an odd number of clubs in the VIJHL this season, division play has been removed from the playoff structure. The regular season champs will earn a bye while the second place team draws last-place Campbell River (9-33).

The Comox Valley Glaciers, who were in the running for first all season, are a point back of Peninsula and Victoria with only one game remaining. Comox will likely end up third and face the sixth place Saanich Braves (13-22-6).

That’s the situation Saanich is preparing for, coach Robin Gomez said. The Braves have lost more games in extra time than any other team (six).

Saanich and Comox meet at George Pearkes arena tonight (Feb. 18). A win by Saanich would officially set up the opening round playoff series against Comox.

The Braves have a wildcard in goal with Tanner McGaw, who backstopped the Braves to a seven-game series with Victoria last year.

“We’ve been splitting the duties between (McGaw) and Matt Chester but we’ll run with McGaw to start,” Gomez said.

Peninsula close the season versus Oceanside at Panorama tonight, 7:30 p.m., while Victoria play their last game in Kerry Park on Saturday.