It seemed as though the Peninsula Panthers had been spinning their tires in mud over the first three VIJHL Regular Season games and along with the spinning tires and mud, came three straight tough losses. The Club had played well enough to have a dramatically different record going into Friday’s game against the Westshore Wolves but had made some big blunders at key moments which had a significant cost.
“We have played well enough to have won three instead of lose three,” quipped Panthers General Manager Pete Zubersky. “But some really key guys have made some untimely blunders and going into Friday night we had a big donut in the win column. The Club played well on Friday against the Wolves and then again up in Campbell River on Saturday night against the Storm and I really think we will see better results moving forward from here.”
On Friday night, the Panthers outshot the visitors by a wide margin of 32-22 but the final result on the scoreboard was the slightest of margins at 5-4. But a win is a win and the result was a significant one for the ‘Cats.’
Logan Speirs led the offensive with two goals and an assist while linemate Riley Braun chipped in with a goal and two helpers. Grant Gilbertson and the suddenly hot Tanner Banks chipped in with single markers of their own. And 20-year-old veteran Connor Svienson collected his first win of the season to record the win.
On Saturday afternoon, the Team jumped on the Iron Lung and pulled out just before 2:30 pm heading for a date with the red-hot and North Division-leading Campbell River Storm. And for the 485 fans in attendance, they did not have to utilize most of their respective seats as they sat on the edge for the entire 60 minutes of regulation time, 5 minutes of overtime and a lenghty shootout before the Storm eventually won the contest 4-3.
“I was sitting on the bus waiting for the players to shower up and at least 15 fans from Campbell River popped their heads through the door to say that they had just witnessed one of the best games they had seen for a couple of years,” said Zubersky. “We would have loved to have them leaving the rink with some disappointment but those were two good Clubs who really put on a show.”
The Panthers outshot the Storm over the 65 minutes of play by a count of 49-42 and it took six shooters from each squad before a winner could be determined in the ensuing shootout. Connor Svienson was tagged for the loss in the affair, although the game was clearly his best of the young season. Speirs and Payton Braun had a goal and an assist while Ryan Grambart excelled all night long and added a huge goal with only 20 seconds remaining in the game and with Svienson on the bench for an extra attacker to knot the score at 3-3. Riley Braun was in on all three goals while defenceman Hunter Jenson added two assists of his own.
Just before getting on the bus outside the back door of Strathcona Gardens in Campbell River, Panthers Head Coach Brad Tippett had a few comments of his own on both Friday and Saturday’s games:
“We are going in the right direction. There were more positives than negatives on Friday night against the Wolves. The scoring came from 3 lines and we had much more emotion. We finally were the first on the scoreboard but still had a couple of deadly miscues that has plagued us in every game so far. We ran a short bench on Wednesday due to injuries and a bug that hit us hard and so it was beneficial to have a few more bodies on the bench on Friday. That was an important win for the squad but we didn’t have any time to pat ourselves on the back. The Storm proved to be another big test as we expected. Looking at their roster it looks like they are one of the top Clubs in the North Division.
Tippett then focused his comments on the heart-stopping game that had just unfolded:
“Adversity reveals more character than it creates. Last Wednesday, we saw glimpses of the team we expected. Even with 13 skaters, we deserved points in that game but came up empty. We had a lot of individual mistakes that ended up in our net and we know we have to address this issue. We did find some offence and although we lost 7-6, we found some positives. We finally had a good start last night against the same Wolves Club and once again tonight in this one. Our leadership group stepped up. The work ethic, some physicality, some structure and some willingness to put our body on the line was evident. We got scoring from 3 of the 4 lines. The 5-4 win last night was huge for our group’s confidence. We played more as a team tonight and trusted that each individual was going to successfully do his job. Going into Campbell River is never an easy task. In spite of coming in with a depleted lineup and playing our third game in four nights, we were full marks for at least one point. When a visiting team outshoots the Storm in their building and the CR first star is their goalie – your team is doing a lot of things well. I loved how we embraced the challenges we faced this weekend, we are clearly moving in the right direction.”
The Panthers will take Sunday off before a week of practice to prepare for another road game on Thursday night up in Nanaimo against the Buccaneers. The squad will then return home on Friday at 7:30 pm when they welcome the visiting Kerry Park Islanders into the friendly confines of the Panorama Recreation Centre. And if this past weekend is any indication, fans on the Peninsula should be prepared for a barn-burner.