The Peninsula Panthers will look to make a fresh start against a familiar rival in 2020 after losing their final two games of 2019.
The club returns to Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) action Jan. 3, 2020 with a home game at Panorama Recreation Centre against the league-leading Victoria Cougars, who are three points head of the Panthers in the league standing, with three games in hand. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m.
Head coach Brad Tippett said the first game back after a break is always tough. “We will have an intense practice Thursday night to get ready for the Cougars on Friday,” he said. “The existing rivalry we share is a built-in-motivator for both teams.”
Friday’s game between the two best teams in the VIJHL also assembles its top talent as the Panthers feature three of the league’s five highest scorers: top scorer Tanner Wort (59 points), second-placed Riley Braun (53 points) and and fourth-placed Josh Lingard (46). Victoria, meanwhile, features third-placed Evan Easton (49 points) and fifth-placed Bryce Irwin (44 points).
The Panthers head into Friday’s heavy-weight clash with two straight losses against teams below them in the standings, having lost against 4-3 against the Storm in Campbell River on Dec. 20 before dropping their final home game before Christmas, 5-2 against the Saanich Braves on Dec. 22.
Tippett said results before the break did not reflect the team’s effort. “We played well in Campbell River, and it had a playoff atmosphere,” he said. “The Storm were hungrier as we had knocked them off all three previous meetings this season. Saanich was another story. We got good goal-tending but we shot ourselves in the foot by laziness on the defensive side of the puck coupled with some undisciplined penalties. The two losses were definitely a lump of coal in our stockings and we will learn from it.”
The Cougars meanwhile won their last two games before the break to move ahead of the Panthers, who remain at 50 points, seven points ahead of the Oceanside Generals, with no other team having cracked the 50-point plateau. The Panthers, in other words, are having an excellent season so far, with only the Cougars ahead of them.
“We have another gear, but the product we put on the ice has been good enough to win more than a few games this season,” said Tippett. “We will be better moving forward.”
Following Friday’s game, the Panthers will look to get some measure of revenge against the Saanich Braves at Pearkes Arena.
“On Sunday in Saanich we must make some changes in the way we attack,” said Tippett. “The small ice surface allows them to clog up the front of the net. Even though we have had 50-plus shots the last two games at Pearkes, there are just too many bodies clustered around the net to get quality shots through.”
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