A road trip with the Peninsula Panthers is probably a lot like one would expect it to be.
There’s noise (the team was rockin’ out to ‘80s music), the chaos of legs to navigate between the rows of seats, and the front of the bus, where the coaches discuss game strategy, player rotations and even the prospect of trades.
And, just to get it out of the way in this story, there is the quiet ride back home following a loss. Never mind that the Panthers’ game Nov. 20 (when this road trip took place) was entertaining and high scoring — the players tend to reflect on everything that happened. By the time they reached the Malahat heading south, voices picked up, the music came back on and talk turned to what’s next.
It was a rare opportunity for the News Review to accompany the team on a road trip. On that Sunday, the Panthers headed up-Island to Parksville to take on the Oceanside Generals.
Among the players, Shawn Parkinson sat closest to the front of the bus. The goaltender, Parkinson said he spends a lot of time visualizing what he has to do each game. He said the team has remained positive this season, despite the fact their record does not include a lot of wins. As many of his teammates did, Parkinson spent a good amount of time plugged in, music on, concentrating.
The News Review also caught up with 15-year-old forward and team sparkplug Michael Brown. He has come to the Panthers via the Westshore Wolves after graduating high school early in Quesnel, B.C. He’s one of only two out-of-area imports, is very young, but has had an impact on the team.
He said he’s enjoying the atmosphere and has thrived under the Panthers’ system.
Brown is known already among his teammates as someone who is everywhere on the ice. He’s not afraid of getting into the mix despite his age.
And like a lot of the players for Peninsula this season, Brown has a great deal of brain power and has ambitions outside of hockey. He is already taking criminology courses at Camosun College in Victoria, with his eyes solidly set on becoming a police officer one day.
General Manager Pete Zubersky said that’s a common thread on this team. Quite a few of the players are in higher education and have goals beyond the game.
Of course, while they’re on the bus and on the ice — it’s all about the hockey.
Team athletic trainer Josh Armstrong, just a few years’ older than most of the players, is no different. He’s a Camosun student as well, working on a four year program that, he hopes, will one day set him up as a trainer at higher levels of hockey. He said the Panthers’ have given him a great opportunity to practice his skills — a gig he said is the envy of his classmates. For him, the bus trip affords him some extra time to review course material. On this trip, Armstrong was looking over anatomical descriptions of the ankle — something he has to tape up regularly on this hockey team.
Coach Brad Tippett, in the meantime, is in the mix for the evening’s game. He’s on his phone most of the trip there and back, checking scores, trades and planning strategy. He and Zubersky keep things running — and the players fed.
By the time the bus is getting close to Parksville and game time, Tippett is calling players up front to go over positions on the ice and their role assignments for the evening’s tilt against the Generals. The bus gets the team to the area in time for a quick warm up, meeting in the dressing room and pre-game skate.
Then, it’s game time.
On this night, the puck doesn’t fall the Panthers’ way. But we already mentioned that.
Tippett and Zubersky agree, however, that apart from a few miscues, the game was one of the best, most energetic efforts from the Panthers this season. It gives them more optimism for the rest of the season.
Quickly, the boys get back on the bus, are fed copious amounts of pizza and settle in for the ride home. Up front, the coaches are debriefing and already working on the next game — and looming trade deadlines.
The Panthers play again at home Sat., Dec. 3.