Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

Saanich, BC (ISN) – Trevor Yee’s goal with 30 seconds remaining in regulation and Tyler Porteous’s goal at 6:16 of the first overtime period gave the Peninsula Panthers a dramatic 2-1 win over the Saanich Braves Wednesday evening, keeping the Panther’s season alive, as they now trail the Braves 3 games to 2 in their VIJHL semi-final series.

As one walked by the Saanich Braves dressing room ten minutes following their dramatic loss to the Peninsula Panthers Wednesday evening, one could literally hear a pin drop, as the Braves, who were 30 seconds away from advancing to the VIJHL finals, will now have to wait at least one more game, possibly two, to earn the right to face the Victoria Cougars on Sunday.

The Braves silence was likely due to the fact that they were pondering the extensive number of opportunities they had to score Wednesday, but bad luck, poor discipline and the fine, steady play of Panther goaltender Stephen Heslop, all got in the way to keep the Braves off the score sheet for nearly two-and-a-half periods.

IMG 6249
Peninsula’s David Stephens moves the puck out of his zone during the first period Wednesday (Photo by Christian J. Stewart – ISN).

Of particular note was a 5:00 minute major power-play opportunity the Braves let fizzle away to start the third period. With 1.8 seconds remaining in the second period, Panther forward Dane Gibson rode the Brave’s Liam Sproule into the centre ice boards from behind and was assessed the major and a game misconduct. With the Braves then looking to start the third with a huge advantage, Captain Ty Jones inexplicably took a roughing penalty during a brief melee after time ran out in the second, negating the man advantage for at least two minutes of the major.

IMG 6325
Saanich’s Nick Vanstone and Peninsula’s Kayle Ramsay battle for a loose puck during the first period Wednesday (Photo by Christian J. Stewart – ISN).

To add to this misfortune, the Brave’s Adam Wade then took a tripping penalty in the first minute of the third and the Panther’s actually ended up on a brief 4-on-3 power-play. When the Braves finally got back to the man advantage, they could not generate any solid scoring chances and those they did, were stopped by Heslop.

IMG 6386
Despite a number of opportunities, Saanich’s Adam Wade and his teammates could not score on the power-play Wednesday against the Panthers (Photo by Christian J. Stewart – ISN).

Meanwhile the Panthers also squandered some prime scoring chances, as they had a two-man advantage in the second period and failed to score and had some other chances, including a breakaway opportunity in the second period, turned away by Saanich netminder Tanner McGaw, who also had another strong performance between the pipes.

With both goaltenders duking it out, and the teams trading failed powerplay opportunities, neither team could score through the first two periods, with the Braves outshooting the Panthers 23-14 in that span.

IMG 6340
Peninsula goalie Stephen Heslop would keep a sharp eye on all 23 Saanich shots over the first two periods, and stop 37 in total to get the win Wednesday (Photo by Christian J. Stewart – ISN).

The Braves would finally break the ice at the 6.49 mark of the third period as Matt Biagioni would pick up a lose puck below the face-off circle and fire a sharp angle shot that somehow found its way past Heslop and into the net.

The Panthers refused to roll over and die however and kept after the Braves, almost tying it up – in fact many Panther fans thought they did – with just under five minutes remaining, as McGaw made the save of the night, diving across the crease to take a sure goal away from a wide open Peninsula player.

IMG 6361
Saanich’s Matt Biagioni was all set to be the hero, having scored the only goal of the game, until the Panthers would tie things up with 30 seconds to play (Photo by Christian J. Stewart – ISN).

The Panthers would get another key opportunity with 3:49 remaining as the Brave’s Nick Vanstone took a tripping penalty, but again were unable to score.

With time running out and just under one minute remaining on the clock, the Panther’s Heslop headed to the bench for the extra attacker and the Panther’s took the puck into the Braves zone. Panther Captain Jake Bryan describes the chaos from there, “I think we somehow managed to get about four shots away and McGaw made a big save on the last one, but left a big rebound. The puck went to Trevor Yee and he chipped it in to tie it and get us to OT.”

IMG 6463
Saanich’s Jordan Groenheyde tries to slide past the Panther’s Ryan Hunter during Wednesday night’s action (Photo by Christian J. Stewart – ISN).

The overtime period was very much a small-scale version of the game, with the Braves dominating play over the first six minutes of play and outshooting the Panthers 4-0. And just like the game, it would be the Panthers who would score last.

With the puck in the Saanich end, the Braves attempted a clearing pass along the boards, but the Panther’s Jake Bryan snuck between the Brave’s Jack Palmer and the puck, keeping it in at the line and feeding a pass to Tyler Porteous near the side of the Brave’s net. Porteous would take a quick backhand shot along the ice that would beat McGaw and send the Panthers and their fans into a frenzy.

“I saw their defender looking up ice and knew he didn’t see me” noted Bryan, “so I snuck in and got the puck and chipped it down towrd the net to Tyler.”

IMG 6603
Peninsula’s Tyler Porteous, who would be the hero just seconds later, moves the puck out of his zone during the overtime period Wednesday (Photo by Christian J. Stewart – ISN).

Said Porteous of the winning goal, “I think it was a low, blocker shot, I really don’t know. I just got the puck and I knew we had traffic going to the net so I just turned and fired the puck and it somehow found its way in. Someone was sure looking after us tonight.”

Panther goaltender Stephen Heslop, who has played well since being pulled in Game 1, was pretty humble about the win. “I’m not sure what happened on that first goal. Sometimes the puck just does not do what you want it to, but after a goal like that you just have to tell yourself to re-focus and forget about it. I’m happy it worked out well for us today and I am happy to be here, playing well and along for the ride.”

IMG 6613
Peninsula’s Tyler Porteous (left) and Jake Bryan (right) celebrate with teammates after combining on the Panther’s overtime winning goal Wednesday (Photo by Christian J. Stewart – ISN).

Braves Head Coach Brad Cook was unfazed by the loss. “That’s just sports, it’s not over until it’s over, it’s unpredictable, the last game is always the toughest to win. And frankly that was simply just a good hockey game. It was great for the fans, it was a good high tempo hockey game. The loss was tough to swallow, but the bottom line is we are still up 3-2. We can’t hang our heads about this game, we played well but just didn’t score, so we have to get ready to do more of that in Game 6.”

Speaking of which, Game 6 in this series will go Friday night at 7:30 at Peninsula and Game 7 if needed, will be back at Saanich on Saturday at 4:00 pm.