The Peninsula Panthers battled hard, but in the end the Storm was too much for them.
The Cats’ season came to a sudden end on Sunday evening in Campbell River before an excited crowd. The VIJHL regular season champions Campbell River Storm clung to the slimmest of margins, a 1-0 lead on the strength of a Jackson Dyke marker.
With under ten minutes remaining in the contest in the winner-take-all game seven in the best-of-seven series, the Panthers made the decision to open things up in an effort to score the equalizer, but sadly their efforts fell short.
Storm forward Darren Hards walked in and beat Panthers’ starter Connor McKillop to open up a two-goal lead with just over five minutes left. The Storm further cemented their lead when forward Noah Fladager raced in all alone on McKillop to notch the insurance marker, with 1:37 left on the clock to put an end to a series which could have gone either way.
“Every game in the series came down to the last few minutes or overtime. No one scored more than four goals in a game,” Panthers’ coach Brad Tippett said. “There were unlikely heroes and some extraordinary sub plots. For our young guys, it sets the bar at another level. Two years ago they swept us four straight, scored 28 goals and never needed a post-game shower. Both teams played all out for all seven games and it hurts tremendously to lose a Game 7. It’s something players won’t ever forget and it will certainly take a couple of days for the sting to go away. At that point we might understand how high we raised the level of our game – and the effort and sacrifice required to play with the top team in the league.”
The Panthers’ Braeden Hansen, the lone 20-year-old on the squad, won’t be returning as a player next season. He is going into his third year in the Camosun College Student Athletic Therapist program in September and will be back with the Panthers next season in this capacity.
“Our kids had a series for the ages,” said GM Pete Zubersky. “It was a battle from the opening faceoff in game one until the final buzzer sounded in Campbell River at the end of Game 7. These young men gave everything they could. Big crowds followed the series in both Campbell River and on the Peninsula. We have much of our roster returning for next season. Someone asked coach when we start next season and his response was ‘now.’ Yes, there is disappointment but there is also a lot of optimism within the organization. We tip out hats to the Storm on their series win.”