All eyes will fall on the Panorama Recreation Centre Friday night when the Peninsula Panthers host the team that is chasing them for the overall lead in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL), the Victoria Cougars, the only team to have beaten the Panthers twice.
The Panthers set the stage for what promises to be an epic game between the two best teams in league with a pair of victories over the weekend to push their record to 18 wins and three loses, with two of those losses against the Cougars, who sit in second place overall, four points behind the Panthers with three games in hand. In other words, the Panthers’ hold on the league’s penthouse is tenuous despite their current record.
“This is the best start ever,” quipped Pete Zubersky, the team’s general manager. “In any other year we would be miles ahead of everyone but this time around, the Cougars record is just as good. We are really keeping track of the loss column as the two clubs are only percentage points apart. I would think that the entire league will be looking in and watching this one and I expect our barn will be rocking when the puck drops and will probably stay that way until the final buzzer.”
The Panthers did their part heading into Friday’s clash with a pair of victories, one narrow, the other convincing. Logan Speirs’ goal 12 seconds into overtime gave the Panthers a 3-2 road win over the Nanamio Bucaneers. Thomas Spink and Jonah Ragsdale also scored for the Cats while netminder Connor McKillop was solid all night long in securing the win.
The Panthers returned home Friday to beat the Campbell River Storm 5-2. Leading the way for the locals was Josh Lingard with a pair of markers while Luc Pelletier, Riley Braun and Denver Maloney added singles. McKillop picked up his second win in as many nights for the club.
While the Panthers’ victories against both teams will count just as much in the standings, Friday’s game against the Cougars will have added significance because of the opponent. The Cougars handed the Panthers their first loss of the season on Sept. 27, then beat them again Oct. 20 in owning the head-to-head series. The Panthers’ only other loss came against the Westshore Wolves.
“There will be no room for the faint of heart on Friday,” said Zubersky. “We have played some great hockey but we need to punch the clock for a full 60 minutes. We have not had a real presence in front of the net for a number of games now but that aspect of our game better show up on Friday or we might find ourselves in some trouble. I expect we will have 20 bodies ready to go.”
The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. and the team has asked fans to arrive early.
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