The Peninsula Panthers and the West Shore Wolves geared up for another exciting VIJHL matchup on Friday at the Panorama Recreation Centre. The Panthers entered the game with a record of 21-14-6 hoping to make it 2 wins in their past 2 games to help them forget about their less than ideal stretch over their past 10 games. Meanwhile, the Wolves came to town with a record of 14-26-2 looking to break a 2 game losing skid. With the playoffs just around the corner, no team can afford to take a night off, which made this an important game for both clubs!
The first period got off to a heavy start with the Panthers laying the body multiple times in the first shift making sure to set the tone for the remainder of the game. The Wolves responded with a seemingly inescapable forecheck on their first offensive possession, finding a way to generate some decent chances right off the hop, something the Wolves have excelled at all season long. The Wolves held offensive zone possession for a solid minute, eventually resulting in a Panthers turnover just inside of their zone, forcing Panthers goaltender Mason Kelly to be sharp early, making a critical stop. Shortly after their early scoring chance, the Wolves took a penalty putting the Panthers on the man advantage. Despite the strong penalty kill displayed by the Wolves, the Panthers found ways to quickly move the puck to potential scoring threats, however their first power play of the game ultimately bore no fruit. However, only seconds after failing to find the back of the net on the powerplay, the Panthers broke the scoreless tie off a goal from Cameron Sneek, which was assisted by Malcolm Fletcher and Bradley Bates. The Panthers kept the pressure on in the proceeding shifts, desperately attempting to widen their lead, however, the Wolves played a structured and tight defensive game that allowed them to have accurate and effective breakouts for the vast majority of the first period. One of the breakout opportunities by the Wolves allowed Jackson Campbell to charge in down the goalies left side and crank the cross bar. Which truth be told, looked devastatingly close to going off the inside bar from where I was sitting, but it was reviewed and deemed no goal. The Wolves got the Panthers sweating with some consecutive offensive zone time which in turn resulted in the Panthers taking a slashing penalty putting the Wolves on their first powerplay of the game. Early on in the man advantage the Wolves brilliantly used their umbrella set up moving the puck well at the blue line which led to a shot on net that was deflected, resulting in a net front scrum that was eventually covered. Shortly after this close call for the Wolves, they took a hooking penalty, putting a halt to their powerplay, resulting in some four on four hockey. The Panthers quickly took advantage of the unclogged ice as Evan Mayer sent it for Tristan Rosenblood who fed Theodore St-Denis who made no mistake net front to put the Panthers up by a deuce. The Wolves did not exit the period quietly however as they followed up being scored on with a solid shift in the Panthers zone in which they got a few quality chances in front. When the first period came to a close the Panthers found themselves up 2-0. With the shot totals reading 15 for the hosting Panthers, and 9 for the visiting Wolves.
The second period picked up right where the first left off with a striking first shift put in by the Wolves, holding the offensive zone for the first 45 seconds of the period. The possession forced the Panthers to take a hooking penalty putting the Wolves back on the powerplay. The Panthers kept the pressure on the Wolves, giving them no time or space to easily move the puck; however, the Wolves persevered, generating some solid chances, and eventually Kobe Knowles found twine making it 2-1 off assists from Eli Antoine, and Zion Lavoie. The Panthers did not wait long before doing all they could to respond to the Wolves lead halfing goal by generating two grade A chances off the forecheck. Tristan Rosenblood took advantage of a giveaway in the Wolves corner, but just missed the net high. Shortly after this chance, the Panthers had a net front opportunity to widen their lead but Jacob Haydar came up strong for the Wolves keeping the deficit to just one. The Panthers did not let their foot off the gas for a second during the midway point of the second period as their forecheck was relentless. Just before the 10 minute mark of the second period, Tristan Rosenblood followed the loose puck behind the Wolves net, beating both Wolves defenders to it, and stripped the goalie of the puck before wrapping it around the close side of the net, restoring the 2 goal lead for the Panthers, making it a 3-1 game. The Wolves kept themselves in this game by continuing their strong breakouts following the Panthers third goal, allowing the Wolves to log some offensive zone minutes, however, it was the Panthers that continued to lay the body which was clearly beginning to pay off for the Panthers as they began winning more and more puck battles in both zones. The Panthers truculent forecheck resulted in an offensive faceoff for the Cats late in the second period which saw Ryan Grambart win the draw to Payton Braun who quickly lasered a shot past Jacob Haydar for the Panthers 4th goal of the game and second goal of the period. The Panthers ensured that they didn’t let up following their fourth goal by continuing their forechecking prowess which quickly led to Payton Braun getting the puck to Ryan Grambart, who found Tanner Banks open in front of the net resulting in the Panthers 5th goal of the game, extending the home team’s lead to four goals, making the score 5-1 at the end of the second period. The second period was massively controlled by the Panthers as they amassed a huge lead to take into the third and final frame. The Panthers were not quite as dominant on the shot clock however, with the Wolves earning 10 shots and the Panthers earning 9, to raise the totals to 24-19 in favor of the Panthers.
Despite the Panthers mainly controlling the second period, it was the Wolves that came out strong in the third, with two shifts that saw them bring an intense pace to the game. The Wolves fire caught them a break early on as the Panthers took a roughing penalty that sent the Wolves to a crucial powerplay early in the third. The Wolves struggled to gain access to the Panthers zone as the Panthers penalty killers played aggressive and tight, giving the Wolves no time or space. The Wolves did eventually break into the zone managing to get a point shot on goal which was deflected on its way to the Panthers net, which would have trickled in if it were not for Mason Kelly who was up for the challenge and managed to make a difficult pad save. Despite Kelly’s acrobatics, the Panthers took their second penalty of the infant period putting the Wolves back on the man advantage. The Wolves buckled down on their second powerplay of the third period logging some skillful offensive zone minutes, resulting in multiple scoring chances. Jackson Campbell looked particularly strong in this late game offensive push as he feathered a saucer pass cross-zone for a nice shot opportunity, and had an end to end rush resulting in a backhand shot on goal. Despite the Wolves push, they could not find a way to capitalize on the man advantage, sending the game back to five on five. Although, it was not even strength for very long, as the Wolves took a penalty of their own shortly after a solid powerplay. The Panthers had offensive possession for the majority of their turn on the man advantage, finding ways to get the puck to open scoring threats, however, the Wolves defended well, with active sticks and bodies in seemingly every shooting lane. The Wolves killed off the infraction only to be put back on the PK in what felt like the blink of an eye. On the ensuing Panthers power play, the Cats gained possession off the draw getting the puck to Tanner Banks, who got it to Andrew Braun who wasted no time getting the puck towards Ryan Grambart who put the icing on this game making it 6-1 in favor of the Panthers. The Wolves did have one last glorious chance that was denied on what might have been the save of the season by Mason Kelly in the dying minutes of the frame. The game had some rough stuff that closer resembled a street fight than a hockey game to close out the game, however the officiating staff put an end to the brawls pretty quick, with a pair of misconducts being handed out in the final minutes of the game.
Final Score: Panthers 6, Wolves 1.
While the score shows a blowout, that was not the game we saw on the ice. While it is undeniable the Panthers played a strong game from the net out, the Wolves were never lost on the ice. In fact, by my count the Wolves had a total of 4 missed one timers which with a little better puck luck and some improved timing, those four opportunities could have made this an entirely different game. Moreover, the Wolves were not without their own dominant portions of the game in which they hemmed the Panthers in their own zone and looked like a dangerous squad. In addition the shot totals were not numbers you would expect from a typical 6-1 gam; with the Panthers finishing the game with 30 shots, and the Wolves finishing the game with 26 shots. The Players of the game as decided by the VIJHL were Eli Antoine for the Wolves, and Theodore St-Denis for the Panthers, who both had excellent games for their clubs. Some other players I thought had particularly strong games were both goalies, Mason Kelly of the Panthers, and Jacob Haydar of the Wolves, along with forward Tristan Rosenblood for the Panthers, and Jackson Campbell for the Wolves. Overall it was a very entertaining matchup that saw one team get a well deserved win, and the other missing some chances to make the scoreboard more accurately represent what was shown on the ice.
The Panthers next game is on Thursday, February 9th at 7pm against the Victoria Cougars, and the Wolves next game is on Friday February 10th, at 7pm against the Port Alberni Bombers. Make sure to keep it locked on VIJHL.com to stay up to date on all the latest action, news and information regarding your favorite VIJHL squad!