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VIJHL finals within reach for Peninsula Panthers after weekend victories

First two playoffs goals from Owen Cox turn out to be game-winners against Kerry Park Islanders
Peninsula Panther Owen Cox weaves his way across the ice during last Friday’s game against the Kerry Park Islanders at North Saanich’s Panorama Recreation Centre. Cox scored the winning goal less than five minutes into the third period, breaking a 2-2 tie. The victory gave the Panthers a 2-1 lead in the series. Cox then scored his second goal of the playoffs some 24 hours later to break another 2-2 tie in favour of the Panthers, who now lead their series three games to one with a chance to win VIJHL’s South Division Friday night. (Courtesy of Christian J. Stewart Photography)

The Peninsula Panthers are one win away from going to the finals of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) after winning the third and fourth games of their series against the Kerry Park Islanders.

The two 4-2 victories — Friday night at North Saanich’s Panorama Recreation and Saturday night on the road — give the Panthers a chance to advance to the final in front of their fans Friday night. General manager Pete Zubersky welcomed the opportunity but also warned about looking too far ahead.

“The toughest game to win in a best-of-seven is the last one but we would love nothing more than to punch our ticket to the VIJHL finals on Friday,” he said.

The Panthers find themselves in this position after overcoming a physical opponent during crucial moments of their last games. “Every one of the games in the series against the Kerry Park Islanders has been a dogfight and we have managed to come out on top with a late push in a couple of the games,” said Zubersky.

Last Friday’s home victory in front of 344 fans was in doubt until the middle of the third period. Owen Cox scored his first goal of the playoffs to push the Panthers ahead a little more than one minute after the visitors had tied the game. Logan Speirs then added an insurance marker with little more than eight minutes left.

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Saturday’s game followed the same script after the Panthers surrendered a two-goal lead from the first period in the second to find themselves 2-2 heading into the third period. And it was Cox again who broke the deadlock less than two minutes into the third period. Matthew Seale then scored his first goal of the playoffs halfway through the period to give the Panthers their winning margin.

Ashton Lukan has emerged as a consistent presence in goal. Lukan leads all goalies with seven victories during the playoffs as of Monday and has further improved on his play from the regular season. During the regular season, his goals-against average stood at 2.7. He has since shaved off more than half a goal to stand at 2.18 goals per game. This play has not gone unnoticed.

“Ashton Lukan has carried the ball in the playoffs between the pipes for the most part,” said Zubersky. “He seemed to struggle a bit early in our series against the Westshore Wolves but after he got his feet under him has been simply stellar and he will start once again on Friday night.”

The puck for that game drops at 7:30 p.m.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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