The Peninsula Panthers are expected to be one of the youngest — if not the youngest — teams in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League again this season.
But don’t expect them to be any less skilled — and all decked out in full face gear.
The Junior B hockey club has reloaded for the 2017/18 hockey season and Club Governor and General Manager Pete Zubersky says they’ll be competitive on the ice.
A full roster of players will be on the ice this Saturday, Sept. 2 at 8:30 p.m. for the third Panthers preseason game.
They host the Saanich Braves at Panorama Recreation’s Arena A. Arena B is undergoing a $2.5 million upgrade, including a whole new rink floor, bench and boards. That means once the regular season starts on Sept. 8, the Panthers will be on the road for about five games.
Peninsula are 0-2 in preseason matches, having dropped two game to a Westshore Wolves squad that Zubersky said is loaded. Or considered by some to be loaded.
“I thought we played really well,” he said of those games.
The first was both team’s younger, non-roster players. The second was more of a mix of both teams’ veteran and new players.
Peninsula has about 65 per cent of its team so far as returning players. As is their usual practice, the Panthers have drawn in new players from the ranks of the Peninsula Minor Hockey Association. The trio of Tanner Wort, John Lingard and Riley Braun could end up playing on a line together, Zubersky said during a recent practice. They had worked out with the Panthers all of last season and found themselves called up to play on occasion.
Peninsula has added two other rookies — Saanich’s David Edgar and Brendan Martin, who played in major midget last year. Zubersky said both players have a lot of skill.
Another two newcomers are from Winnipeg, thanks to the hockey connections of second year coach Brad Tippett. Skyler Diamond-Burchuck and Matt Lawrence have added skills and confidence to the team this season.
“The way they carry themselves, they’re confident, mature.”
Backstopping the Panthers this year will be Salt Spring Island’s Chris Akerman, making his Junior B debut. Zubersky said last year’s starter in goal, Shawn Parkinson, could be back in the fold — depending on how the goalie makes out at the Victoria Grizzlies camp.
“We’re probably gonna be the youngest team in the league again,” Zubesky said, “but this time around, we’ll have a little bite to us.”
Among the returning veterans, Zubersky said Quesnel’s Marshall Brown has gained weight and confidence — and has recovered from a broken leg he suffered last season. but he’s back, and looking strong. Other vets back on the ice for the Panthers include Trevor Owens, Ty Hermsen, Braeden Hansen and Shota Yamamoto.
Five other veterans have been lost to new levels of hockey. Holden Cochrane is in Hearst, Ontario with the expansion Hearst Lumberjacks of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League. Zack Evans has gone south of the border to the Utah Outliers of Salt Lake City. Gavin Yee has joined the Chinese Under 20 team based in Toronto. And Drew Coughlin — last season’s top scorer — went to the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Camrose Kodiaks.
The Panthers open their regular season Sept. 8 on the road at the Saanich Braves. Their first home game, once their home ice is complete, is scheduled for Sept. 29, 7:30 p.m. against the Victoria Cougars.