Game 3: Tonight (March 9), 7:30 p.m. at Panorama.
For a team coming off two straight Island championships and a the B.C. championship, the Peninsula Panthers sure get a bad rap.
Maybe it’s because they finished the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League season in fifth place with 17 wins, less than half of the first-place Victoria Cougars’ 36.
Maybe it’s an unfair assessment based on the mid-season change of ownership, which had a negative affect on the team, including the departure of the talented Peterson brothers tandem of Cole and Kyle.
Or maybe it’s because their Saanich rivals absolutely devoured them in their last five meetings this season, with the Braves outscoring the Panthers 34-9.
Or maybe it’s a little bit from each.
“We came in with seven returning players from last year’s gold-meal squad,” said head coach Rob Armstrong. “And yes, we lost some good players, including Evan Campbell, who was incredible for this team as a player and a leader.
“But this season had its distractions, with the financial stuff. And we’ve been bringing along some rookies as well, seeing how this team thrives in the playoffs.”
The ownership situation was particularly sour for fans, Armstrong said.
“Crowds have grown recently. And home ice is going to be an advantage again for us, where it wasn’t at mid-season.”
Armstrong was on the bench as an assistant coach to former owner Jackson Penney when the Panthers won everything but the Keystone Cup, Western Canadian championship last year.
He believes his team has the firepower to challenge for another VIJHL championship.
But to do it, the team needs its big guns to execute, especially on the powerplay.
Which means quarterback Jake Bryan, hometown boy Trevor Yee and talented Whitehorse imports Joe Densmore and David Stephens taking the lead on the first unit, which they did on Wednesday with three goals.
“Our powerplay had been inconsistent most of the season. It has to be better. (Overall) we have the firepower but we don’t have a large margin of error. Granted (the Braves) are a good team, and we have to play well.”