Two road wins last week brought the Peninsula Panthers withing striking distance of the Victoria Cougars for top spot in the South Division of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL).
With the league now on its holiday break, the Panthers are just six points back of the Cougars, thanks to convincing wins over the Oceanside Generals (6-1) last weekend in Parksville and the Westshore Wolves (6-3) on Dec. 15.
The victory over Westshore showed grit and determination, as the Panthers came from down 3-0 after the first period to roar back with six straight goals, including four in the final frame.
Riley Braun powered the comeback with a hat trick, while Grant Gilbertson scored twice. Logan Speirs tallied a single in the victory.
Scoring was more balanced, but no less prolific in the Panthers’ win over Oceanside. Ryan Grambart and Evan Crawford added their names to a scoring list once again led by Gilbertson, who scored twice. Riley Braun and Speirs also scored. Tanner Banks missed a penalty shot for the Panthers in the second period with the Panthers already leading 4-1.
Ashton Lukan won both games in goal for the Panthers, coming into the first game to relieve starter Brad Kelly, then going the distance against Oceanside. In short, the Panthers are finding ways to win games in multiple wins.
“We are absolutely flying going into the Christmas break,” said Panthers owner/general manager Pete Zubersky in assessing his team, winners of five straight games against some of the toughest teams in the VIJHL.
All aspects of the team’s play are clicking, he added.
“Our forwards have dynamic speed and they were using it to our advantage,” he said. “Our defence were getting the puck out and onto the forwards’ sticks with speed and our goaltending continues to be exceptional.”
This commitment toward total effort was also evident Saturday as the Panthers never let the Generals gain any momentum.
“On Saturday, we discussed the fact that the Christmas break did not come until the end of the game and we took that to heart,” Zubersky said. “At 10 p.m., once the game was secured, the dressing room and our trip home were both loud.”
The Panthers (21-9-1-4, 47 points) return to action on home ice on Wednesday, Dec. 29 for a big game against the Kerry Park Islanders. “If we can keep the momentum going, we are going to be a load in the final 17 games.”
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