Peninsula Panthers hopeful looks to next season’s team

Riley Braun samples life on the ice at the Junior B hockey level.

Riley Braun says the pace is a lot faster, the passes a bit snappier and he’s surrounded by people who have fewer weak spots in their game.

Yet, the 15-year-old Saanich Peninsula hockey player has a gleam in his eye as he looks over his shoulder at the ice at Panorama Recreation Centre. He doesn’t want to miss a thing.

Braun is taking part in this summer’s Peninsula Panthers’ development hockey camp. As a 15-year-old, he knows he won’t be cracking the roster on the Junior B team this season, but he hopes to.

“Everyone on the Peninsula wants to play for the Panthers,” he smiled.

Braun finished last season with the Peninsula Minor Hockey Association’s (PMHA) Bantam AA team. He was part of a successful season, helping the squad to a solid semi-final finish among Island clubs at that level. He has the desire to improve his own game and in addition to skating in the Panthers’ camp, he said he’s hit the ice with the Vancouver Island Hockey League teams in Saanich and Victoria. It’s all to get his legs back under him after last season and to be ready to try out for PMHA’s Midget rep squad in about three weeks.

The Panthers’ development camp officially ended Tuesday night but club owner and General Manager Pete Zubersky said it’s essentially merging with the team’s main camp – which started Wednesday. Many of the players, Zubersky said, are going to stay in camp and see some exhibition game time next weekend.

He said Braun is a solid player, teachable and a good kid. The local team’s long-standing philosophy is to try to develop local talent and the PMHA product fits the bill.

Braun said he found the overall pace of play to be faster, with more emphasis on strong, hard passes and shots. The veteran Panthers, he added, are solid players who finish their plays, he continued. Most of those areas he knows he has to work on and faces it with a smile. Braun said he’s been on skates since he was around two years old — and said he was hooked. Once he felt the glide across the ice at speed, he knew that’s what he wanted to do. He knows what’s expected.

Other Panthers’ hopefuls joined him back on the ice and Zubersky puts them through their paces. The team has a new coach this year — Brad Tippett — but he’s not expected to take over until next week.

For now, Zubersky said he’s getting the players conditioned and ready for the systems Tippett will likely introduce.

There’s a short turnaround for the new coach and this year’s Panthers’ roster. The team has two exhibition games: Friday, Aug. 26 at 6 p.m. at Panorama against the Westshore Wolves, and; Sun day, Aug. 28 out in the West Shore. Zubersky said the first exhibition will see veterans take to the ice, while the second match will put some of the new players and roster hopefuls to the test.

The Panthers’ regular season starts September 2, at home versus the Saanich Braves.