Pickering Panthers capture Buckland Cup in thrilling fashion


Published May 15, 2022 at 10:24 pm

Ryan Johnstone, one of the youngest players on the ice, scored the Buckland Cup-winner to complete a Pickering Panthers’ triumph for the ages.

The 17-year-old scored with 37 seconds left in Game 7 of the league final on Sunday night, lifting Pickering to a 4-3 victory against the Toronto Jr. Canadiens and a series win by that same scoreline. Pickering, perhaps fittingly for a team that had the best road record in the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) in the regular season, won the title in a winner-take-all game away from home.

Ethan Doyle, Ian Martin and Brown University-committed forward Eli Pilosof also scored for the Panthers, whose 50th-anniversary season will now include a championship banner. Toronto got a pair of goals from Cooper Bertrand and one from Tyler Fukukasa, a Rochester Institute of Technology recruit.

The teams played the equivalent of four full games in six days to decide the OJHL representative in the upcoming Centennial Cup national Junior A championship, which begins in Estevan, Sask., in less than four days’ time. Toronto stayed extant with a double-overtime win in Game 6 in Pickering last Friday, after Pickering had wrested Game 5 through a double-overtime dagger from Dustin Hutton.

The Panthers, coached and managed by former NHL wing Rob Pearson, will have a tight turnaround time to heal and reset to face teams they have never seen. They face the Red Lake Miners in the first game of the tournament at 2 p.m. ET on Thursday.

The possibility of even more overtime was a distinct possibility on Sunday, until Johnstone whipped the decider behind Toronto goalie Selby Warren in the 59th minute. Johnstone was the captain of the Ajax-Pickering Raiders under-18 team this season, before joining the Panthers mid-playoffs.

Pilosof pulled Pickering level at 3-3 with a goal 4:59 into the third. That equalizer came just 61 seconds after Bertrand got a go-ahead goal for Toronto.

Members of the Panthers’ all 20-year-old line of Doyle, Martin and Lucas Rowe stepped up to help Pickering play Toronto even at 2-2 through the first two periods. Martin scored a tying goal in the first period by by redirecting Pilosof’s shot. That gave Pickering a response to the icebreaker from Fukukasa, the league’s leading playoff scorer.

In the second, Doyle buried a rebound at 7:19 to put a bow on a play created by Rowe and Martin. But Bertrand got a short-handed salvo 3:40 from the end of the period.

As noted, the 10-team Centennial Cup in Estevan, Sask., which features all nine Junior A league champions from across the nation, starts on Thursday. The entire tournament can be streamed on HockeyCanada.ca, while TSN and RDS will pick up coverage for the championship game on May 29.

The Panthers are in a group with Red Lake, from the Superior International league, as well as: Brooks Bandits (Alberta), Collège Français de Longueuil (Quebec) and Estevan Bruins (host, but also Saskatchewan champions).

Their schedule is as follows

  • May 19, 2 p.m., vs. Red Lake
  • May 21, 9:30 p.m., vs. Estevan
  • May 22, 9:30 p.m., vs. Longueuil
  • May 24, 2 p.m. vs. Brooks

The top three teams in each pool advance to the playoffs. The quarterfinals are May 27 and the semifinals are May 28, with the final the following day.

The other pool includes the Dauphin Kings (Manitoba), Flin Flon Bombers (Saskatchewan), Ottawa Jr. Senators (Central Canada), Soo Thunderbirds (Northern Ontario) and Summerside Western Capitals (Maritime).

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