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Peninsula Panthers claw a point off Victoria Cougars in narrow loss

The Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League team is also dealing with a rash of injuries
Recently acquired 19-year-old Ashton Luken stopped 15 shots during the Panthers’ 6-5 overtime loss to the Victoria Cougars Sunday night. (Photo by Tina Doehnel)

The Peninsula Panthers confirmed they can compete with the best teams in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) in pushing the Victoria Cougars to the brink of defeat only to lose in overtime Sunday night.

The Panthers’ narrow 6-5 loss to the Cougars concluded a run of three games that started with a 5-4 road victory over the Saanich Predators Wednesday night. Theodore St-Denis led the Panthers with two goals. The Panthers returned to action Friday night at Panorama Recreation Centre, where they hosted the Kerry Park Islanders.

Held off the scoresheet by the Predators, rookie sensation Payton Braun scored twice against the Islanders, but his goals were not enough to overcome the visitors’ goaltending. Braun, along with his brother Riley, also found the net again Sunday night at Archie Browning Memorial Arena, where the Panthers found themselves in a back-and-forth struggle with the league’s powerhouse, the Victoria Cougars.

Trailing the undefeated Campbell River Storm but just one point in the overall standing with 26 points, the Cougars had just lost two games heading into their contest with the Panthers. Playing on the road no less, the Panthers outshot the Cougars 34-20 during regulation play. Grant Gilbertson’s eighth goal of the season with less than four minutes to play pushed the game into overtime, where the Cougars’ only shot proved to be the winning one.

The overtime loss earned the Panthers one point but also left them with the feeling that they could have had more.

RELATED: Peninsula Panthers round out busy week with win over Saanich Predators

“Like every game we have played this year, we have outshot our opponents, ” said Brad Tippett, head coach. “We got a point in Victoria – no one has done that, no other team has scored five goals against them. I thought we deserved the two points today.”

Sunday’s performance was even more remarkable when held up against the team’s growing list of injuries. The Panthers played the second half of their game against Kerry Park with 14 skaters following injuries. St-Denis will be likely out for a month after suffering a knee injury (which will not require surgery) and forward Denver Maloney will be out for two weeks after suffering a freak hit to his shoulder, said Tippett.

“Sunday we did not know what our line-up would be,” he said. “I thought we played a really solid game. We have players playing out of their normal positions and some players playing huge minutes.”

Looking at the big picture, general manager Pete Zubersky tries to see beyond the standings, which show the Panthers with 15 points, one point below the break-even line after 16 games.

“We are under .500 but I really like our club,” he said. “We have played 16 games now and have outshot the opponent every single one of them. The wins will start coming. Right now we just have to stay in the hunt, it is going to come around very soon.”

Tippett is taking a comparable view. “We have talked in the room about this (season) being a journey,” he said. “Talked about playing our best and getting better every day. Acknowledging losing a game where we have played very well versus winning a game we didn’t play well. If we continue to get better every day, play to our ability, the wins will come. We are asking a lot of a few healthy players. We will get healthy and we will be better long-term for this stretch of adversity.”

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