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Peninsula Panthers bounce back from injuries, poor performance with victories against Saanich, Nanaimo

Defending VIJHL champions retain best winning percentage
Payton Braun of the Peninsula Panthers tries to weave his way past a Nanaimo defender during Friday’s 4-0 victory over the Buccaneers. Wednesday night, Braun scored twice as the Panthers beat the Saanich Predators. (Christian J. Stewart Photography/Submitted)

The Peninsula Panthers bounced back with two victories in Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJLH) action.

Payton Braun scored two goals Wednesday night as the Panthers beat the Saanich Predators 3-1 to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the teams in the South Division. Mason Kelly picked up the victory in net. Two nights later, his twin brother Brady helped to shut out the Nanaimo Buccaneers 4-0. Four separate Panthers, Malcolm Fletcher, Ryan Grambart, Tanner Banks and Julien Phillips, scored in the victory, which likely helped ease the sting of having lost 3-2 against the lowly Buccaneers earlier in the season.

Owner and general manager Pete Zubersky had called that loss a wake-up call and the Panthers appeared to have responded with a more concentrated effort.

“For us to be successful we need to be a defence-first team, we get ourselves in trouble when we get ahead of ourselves,” said Chris Driebergen, head coach, after the game. “I told the boys this weekend, do less but be exceptional at it. When we try to do too much and play outside of our skillset or specific role is when we find ourselves in trouble.”

RELATED: Peninsula Panthers drop two games in VIJHL action

Driebergen specifically singled out the Kelly twins for their respective performances. “Great to see Brady get rewarded with a shutout,” he said. “(There) was an energy on the bench the last few minutes. No one said anything but all the players knew to give a little extra.”

Driebergen also praised the line with Bradley Bates, Malcolm Fletcher and Cameron Sneek for their collective efforts. “Our energy line … had by far their best game as a unit and I felt they were our most impressive line on Friday evening,” he said. “We need some grit and they were happy to oblige.”

Blue-liners Robson Scott and Seth Fryer had their most consistent and solid defensive efforts this week, he added.

The Panthers retain the best winning percentage in the league with four fewer points than Oceanside Generals, who lead the league in points but have played three more games.

The Panthers’ next two games will see them face the Comox Valley Glacier Kings, starting with a home game Friday at North Saanich’s Panorama Recreation Centre. “We have two important games this upcoming weekend versus Comox,” said Driebergen. “We will need to be very specific and deliberate in practice as we plan and prepare for these games.”

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