The Peninsula Panthers picked up all four possible points over the weekend, beating one of the best teams in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL).
Ashton Lukan stopped 21 out of 22 shots as the Panthers beat the Victoria Cougars 4-1 thanks to two goals from Matthew Seale, whose opening goal and empty-net goal book-ended the scoring at North Saanich’s Panorama Recreation Centre. The Cougars entered Friday’s game as the second-best team in VIJHL, having lost only twice in 20 games prior to Friday’s game.
Payton Braun and Tristan Rosenblood also scored for the Panthers, who followed their home victory with a 5-4 comeback victory on the road against the Kerry Park Islanders.
Trailing 3-2 after two periods and 4-3 halfway through the third period, Riley Braun scored the winning goal for the Panthers with 45 seconds left in the game. Lukan once again went the distance in goal, saving 30 out of 34 shots.
“We had a really significant weekend in my mind,” said Pete Zubersky, Panthers’ owner and general manager. “(Lukan) was great between the pipes against the Cougars on Friday and then again up in Mill Bay against the Islanders.”
Head coach Brad Tippett struck a comparable note. “I’m sure everyone – players, coaches, and everyone else related to the team – had to be proud of our weekend,” he said. “Courage, commitment, consistency and better communication helped get all four points.”
Tippett specifically pointed to an incident in the game against Kerry Park to underscore his point. “Riley Braun turned a puck over in Kerry Park that led to a goal against,” he said. “He came back to the bench and loudly told everyone that one was on him. It was only fitting he scored the winner in the last minute.”
Tippett also praised the defensive corps for playing long minutes in the face of injuries, as well as fourth-liners like Rosenblood, who scored his first VIJHL goal Friday, only to score again the next night.
“I could go on and on,” said Tippett. “It was just a real character weekend.”
With both victories, the Panthers now find themselves above .500 with 24 out of 44 possible points and in third place in the South Division, three points behind the second-placed Westshore Wolves. Victoria leads the division with 36 points, two points behind overall league-leaders Campbell River Storm.
The Panthers return to action on Wednesday on the road against the Saanich Predators, whom they will host in a matinee game Thursday at Panorama Recreation Centre, where the puck will drop at 2 p.m. They will be back in action Friday night at home against the Kerry Park Islanders with the puck dropping at 7:30 p.m.
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