By Peter Kung
Victoria (ISN) – Josh Wyatt scored the game winner midway through the second period as the Victoria Cougars moved to within two wins of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League title, cruising to an 8-2 win over the Peninsula Panthers on Thursday night.
Instead of going into hibernation, the Cougars went on to score six unanswered goals which included lighting the lamp four times in a three minute and ten-second span.
After missing Game 1 due to an undisclosed injury, Wyatt broke a 2-2 tie after gobbling up a loose puck in the slot and firing it past starting goaltender Stephen Heslop. Wyatt’s goal, which was scored at 12:44, came with Panthers’ forward Logan Gibson sitting in the penalty box.
Victoria went ahead 4-2 when a backhander by Steve Axford eluded Heslop at 13:02.
Defenseman Kurtis Kunz, who went goalless in 16 regular season games, scored his second of the playoffs after his point shot at 15:01 beat Heslop between the legs.
Colin Minardi made matters worse for the Panthers after his shot from the top of the face-off circle twinkled the twine at 15:54.
After the goal, Kylar Stern replaced Heslop who surrendered six goals on 21 shots in 35 minutes and 54-seconds of work. It was the second time in as many games that the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey Association product has gotten the hook.
Both coaches put out their first lines to start the game. Lining up for the opening faceoff were Joe Densmore, David Stephens, and Trevor Yee of Peninsula while the Cougars countered with Steve Axford, Sam Rice, and Wyatt.
But after a quick whistle stopped the play, Panthers’ head coach Rob Armstrong replaced his top line with Josh Bloomenthal, Cole Glover, and Tyler Porteous.
Victoria got off to a torrid start, jumping out to a two goal lead before the game was not even five minutes old.
Connor Stephens, named the game’s first star, danced around Peninsula captain Jake Bryan before beating Heslop with a beautiful shot at 1:51.
Then at 4:20, Brody Coulter converted at Trevor Chown rebound into a goal.
But the Panthers would answer back before the end of the period.
From the side of the net, Stephens beat goalie Bryce Halverson at 4:38. Porteous then tied the game at 12:56 after ripping a wrist shot past the Victoria netminder.
Special teams played a key role for the Cougars, converting three times on 11 powerplay opportunities and going a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.
Penalties to Densmore and Grayson Vickers 54 seconds apart in the third period put Victoria on a two man advantage.
Wyatt, who notched his team leading sixth playoff goal, deflected an Axford point shot past Stern at 4:04 to put the Cougars up 7-2. And with Vickers still in the sin bin, Minardi closed out the scoring with his second goal of the night 15 seconds later.
Chown and Rice had productive nights as both players each recorded three assists.
Victoria outshot the Panthers 40-29.
Game 3 goes Friday, March 23 in Peninsula. Game time at the Panorama Recreation Centre, located at 1885 Forest Park Drive, is 7:30 p.m.
1st star, Connor Stephens (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)
2nd star, Josh Wyatt (Goals: 2, Assists: 1)
3rd star, Colin Minardi (Goals: 2, Assists: 0)