The Central York Panthers Junior team qualified for the OWHL U22 Elite Championship Weekend by virtue of finishing in 2nd place in the Central East division at the conclusion of the regular season with a 23-5-1-1 record. The top 12 teams in the league participated in the Championship tournament this past weekend.
Coming into the event, the Panthers were ranked #10 in the province, and were looking to surprise many of the top teams at the tournament. That they did!
The first game on Friday morning was perhaps the toughest opponent on paper and one of the favourites to win the event, the London Devilettes. The Panthers came out roaring and kept London on their heels for most of the first two periods and were rewarded with two quick goals midway through the second.
London found their legs in the third and cut the deficit in half with a power-play goal. Several minutes later, more penalty trouble for the Panthers, finding themselves down 5-on-3 for over a minute and a half. The PK units were awesome and helped turn the tide and luckily, the Panthers hung on for the victory.
The second game of the day had the Panthers facing the similarly ranked Kingston Ice Wolves. This was the first game of the day for the Ice Wolves as they took the ice against a Panther team coming off their London victory only a couple hours earlier. The rested Ice Wolves came out quickly and challenged our Panthers early.
Some stellar goaltending, stout defence, and quick offensive transitions kept Kingston off the board and eventually paid dividends with a Panther goal late in the first period. This was a physical, penalty filled affair, as the speedy Panther attack was just too much for the Ice Wolves to handle. The Panthers scored a player-play goal in the second, and two more early in the third. Kingston finally notched a goal late in the game, but they had run out of time.
The Panthers cruised to their second victory of the day, clinching first place in their pool, and a bye to the Quarterfinals on Saturday evening.
After some well-deserved rest, the Panthers arrived on Saturday evening ready to play the Oakville Hornets, looking for a berth in the medal round the following day. The only prior meeting with Oakville earlier this season resulted in an 8-2 loss, so the Panthers were eager for a rematch against the speedy and talented Hornets.
The Panthers came out of the gate strong and pressured the Hornets in all zones of the ice and it paid dividends resulting in three first period goals. The second period saw the Hornets fight back, but the Panthers were up to the challenge. The game got very physical and there were many violent collisions on the boards and open-ice body checks. The Panthers added another tally in the 2nd, and continued with their strong defensive zone play, led by the stellar goaltending of Brooke Vaccari.
This 4-goal lead proved too much for the Hornets to overcome and their lone marker in the third was not enough as the Panthers celebrated a 4-1 victory and their berth into the Final Four, only the second time in the Junior Panthers’ history!
The semi-final matchup for the Panthers featured the #2 provincially ranked Etobicoke Dolphins. With a berth in the gold medal game on the line, the Panthers came out squeezing their sticks a little too tight and were more tentative than prior games. Solid goaltending kept the Panthers in the game, however, after having a goal called off and hitting a cross-bar and a post, the Panthers found themselves down 1-0 after two periods.
As was the case in the prior games, the Panthers came out flying in the third and got markers from Hannah Clarke and Gaby Gareau to take a 2-1 lead mid-way through the 3rd period. The Panthers were able to turn away a persistent Dolphins attack time and time again, but were charged with a questionable penalty with only three minutes left in the game.
The Etobicoke power-play took advantage of the situation and scored the tying goal on a shot from the point that deflected off many bodies in front. The last two minutes of the game ticked away, leading to 3v3 overtime. Back and forth action in OT kept the packed house entertained right until the very end, but unfortunately the Dolphins found the back of the net first, burying the rebound on a 2v1 play. A tough loss for the Panthers, coming so close to moving on.
The bronze medal game featured the first matchup of the season against the #4 ranked Mississauga Hurricanes. The Hurricanes were coming off a thrilling win in the Quarter-Finals vs. London and a tough loss in their semi-final matchup vs. Durham West Lightning.
Mississauga had the early advantage against the Panthers in the first two periods, jumping out to a 2-0 lead at the flood. Early in the 3rd, the Panthers started gaining momentum but yielded a third goal to Mississauga. Facing a 3-0 deficit, the Panthers could have easily packed it in but instead mounted a comeback by scoring two quick goals, making the game 3-2 with just over 10 minutes left to play. A renewed sense of optimism fuelled the Panther attack, resulting in several chances late in the game, but unfortunately, they just couldn’t find the equalizer and had to settle for a 4th place finish in the OWHL U22 Elite Championship tournament.
Overall, an amazing result for the Junior Panthers. University scouts and OWHL officials couldn’t say enough good things about the Panthers performance on the weekend. This result really put our high performance program on the map.
Congratulations to the League Champions: Durham West Lightning (Gold), Etobicoke Dolphins (Silver) and Mississauga Hurricanes (Bronze).
After a few days off, the Panthers are back to work, preparing for the year-end OWHA Provincial Championships, welcoming the top 20 teams from across the province to a tournament April 7th-10th.
Congratulations to all players and staff for a great weekend and thanks to all of our fans for your support all season long!