CORNER BROOK These Gros Morne Academy Panthers just might be for real.
Last week the resurrected West Coast High School Hockey League team handed the Stephenville High Spartans a stunning defeat. On Monday night, they walked into the Kinsmen Arena II and fought the Corner Brook Regional High Titans to a 2-2 standstill.
Robert Gill and Nathan Ellsworth did the damage offensively for the Panthers.
Tyler Lavers and Andrew Taylor were the goal scorers on the Titans’ side.
“It’s just an overall team effort of getting everyone moving their feet,” said Panthers’ Ben Murphy of the team’s success this year in their return to the league after a four-year absence. “We’re trying to stay away from the really hard contact game, because we don’t have a lot of numbers and it’s tiring to play that way, but we’re getting pucks to the net and crashing.”‘
A pivotal play in the game was with the Panthers trailing 1-0 with the first period about to come to a close. Then, suddenly, Gill scored with one second left on the clock, sending the team into the locker room with a clean slate instead of an early deficit on the road.
“That was a really big one there from our defenceman,” said Murphy. “If it wasn’t for that one, we might not have gotten anything going. That gave us our first boost.
“It got the whole team going, it got our spirits up,” he added. “A quick one just before the buzzer was huge.”
The team also accomplished a feat that no other squad has managed to do this year — or last.
They prevented the Titans from winning.
With only one major midget hockey player on their roster this year, the Titans are still the league’s top team, but they aren’t the unbeatable force they were last season.
Murphy, who is a member of the Western Kings, said that knowledge had the Panthers playing with a lot more confidence. The team almost came away with the win, but were foiled on a succession of breakaways in the final frame.
“I kind of expected we’d have a better chance,” he said. “It definitely made a difference in our heads going into the game.”
As uplifting as the last-second goal to close out the first was for the Panthers, it served as a cold dagger for the Titans.
“It hurt,” said Titans captain Christian Hobbs. “Mistakes happen and that’s all you can do. We tried to make up for it and play harder.
“We had a lot of opportunities,” he added. “We just couldn’t bury anything.”
Despite the minor setback, Hobbs still believes the Titans are the team to beat this season.
“Definitely,” he said. “This is our only game we haven’t won yet. We’re playing pretty good so far, we just have to keep it up and we should be fine.”
And, according to the third-year player who has seen his share of success in high school hockey, there’s something to be said for toughing out a few games instead of cruising to victory every night.
“I like it,” he said. “I like the close games and the competition. It makes it more fun to play hockey.”