By Thomas Becker
The UPEI Panthers have played well in recent weeks and on Friday night they put together a complete 90 minutes in a 3-0 win over the Saint Mary's Huskies.
It may have been a crippling blow to the Huskies' playoff dreams as they wait anxiously for Saturday's Moncton-Dalhousie game that will ultimately decide their fate.
"Coming in, we knew the position SMU was in, so we wanted to play as hard as we could. And I think the guys came out here and did that," said Panther keeper Nathan Ford.
In his final game of his AUS career, Ford was spectacular in net turning aside all eight shots he faced and was named Subway Player of the Game for his effort.
"I couldn't have asked to be part of a better group. Everybody worked the whole year, even when we knew we were out of the playoffs. The energy, the passion, it was just an amazing atmosphere."
Sam Smiley continued his solid play and netted his second goal in the last three games in the 44th minute. The striker fired the ball from 17 yards out off the fingertips of Huskie goaltender Jensen Brown and in.
Captain Ignacio Sanchez had no intention of sending the hardcore fans who braved the chilly temperatures home disappointed, and in the 86th minute he drilled a penalty shot to make it 2-0.
On an odd-man rush in extra time, Neil Harte found Noah Bitar to his left and the veteran forward made it count, firing it past Brown. Teammates, including those on the bench, raced to the corner flag congratulating Bitar, who deposited his first and last goal in a Panther uniform. It was an emotional goal for Bitar, who served as a reserve for most of his tenure.
"It feels good. The boys knew it was my first goal and that I don't get in as much," he said. "We're a tight-knit group and when they know it's a big moment for a guy, they make you feel good."
Now that the season is over it's a time to reflect and Sanchez believes the best is yet to come for this team.
"We all made a commitment to play at a higher level. We push each other every day, working toward next season and there's only room for growth with these guys."
And as the off-season begins, Sanchez has a few words for the fans who've supported them all season.
"It's only going to get better," he said. "We're going to improve from here on out and put on a show for the fans because they come out in weather like this and still support us and that's big on their part."
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan