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Catching up with the Port Moody Panthers: Busy off-season and team's plea for a 2021-22 puck-drop

The Tri-Cities' junior 'B' hockey club is hoping for the return of fans in the fall so they may see its new core of young athletes, and that may mean getting two COVID-19 vaccine doses.
The Port Moody Panthers in Pacific Junior 'B' Hockey League (PJHL) action during a game against the Grandview Steelers, pre-pandemic. | File photo

The Port Moody Panthers have not played a competitive contest now since Nov. 7, 2020.

At that time, the Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL) had created cohorts for its 13 franchises as B.C. allowed for sports to host games with no fans and under strict COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

But just like most other organizations, sports went back to hosting non-contact practices and no travel outside their home communities given the pandemic's state in the province heading into winter.

Now, with COVID-19 transmission slightly fading day-by-day and vaccinations ramping up, the prospect of a season starting in the fall is becoming a possibility.

B.C.'s restart plan is about to enter Step Three on Canada Day (July 1).

If all goes well, Step Four would be implemented after the Labour Day weekend, in time for Panthers' general manager Brian Wiebe to see his off-season agenda come to fruition ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

"We just can't wait to see fans from the Tri-Cities back in the Port Moody Arena to cheer on our players and enjoy a Saturday night of fantastic junior hockey," he said in an interview with Tri-City News.

However, in order to get to that threshold before the first puck-drop in what would be a 10-month gap between games, the Panthers are pleading with the public to not waver and do its part.

"We hope that people continue to follow the protocols and get both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine so all sports can have as normal of a season as possible in the fall," said Wiebe.

"In the meantime, our returning players and new recruits are on the ice weekly in preparation for training camp in August."

As of this publication (June 26), the Port Moody-Anmore-Belcarra region of the Tri-Cities is at an 82% immunization rate in terms of eligible residents aged 12 years and older receiving their first of two COVID-19 vaccine jabs.


The Port Moody Panthers are hoping a new crop of rookies can bolster their performance and look to end a 10-year playoff absence, should a regular- and postseason actually take place.

Four Lower Mainland athletes have signed thus far with the hockey club going into the summer schedule, all from different hockey avenues:

Port Moody saw three graduating athletes last season, while three others made the jump to the Western Hockey League (WHL) when its respective hubs dropped the puck earlier this year.

Wiebe is confident his new recruiting class will bring their 'A' game to the 'B' level.

"All four players were sought after by a number of junior 'B' teams, so we're thrilled they chose our program to develop in and we hope to help each of them move up to a higher level," he explained.
"We expect all of our players to battle for a spot in the line-up each night. [...] That said, we don't think any of them will be out of place in our line-up."
The Panthers have a COVID-safe identification camp scheduled for early July in Delta, which a return to normalcy of sorts for Wiebe and his hockey operations staff.
"The toughest part in recruiting for the upcoming season is that most levels of hockey below the PJHL weren't able to get many games in, if any, during the 2020-21 season because of COVID-19 restrictions. So, we are trying to recruit players without seeing them play much in a game situation unless it was during the 2019-20 season."


Port Moody could also see a potential first this summer as the franchise has never seen one of its former athletes drafted into the NHL.
Forward Carson Latimer played eight games with the Panthers last year combining for 11 assists and 12 points before the season's ultimate cancellation but was then called up to play for the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings and made an immediate impact.
The Surrey product was named the Central Division rookie of the year after tallying 16 points in 22 hub games, and is ranked in the top 150 by NHL scouts among North American skaters.
"The thought that a player who donned a Panthers jersey during his NHL draft-eligible season could be selected is unreal," Wiebe added. 
"It's something that has never happened before in franchise history."
The Athletic's Corey Pronman has projected the former Panther to be taken 115th overall.
If that rings true, Latimer could be staying in the city of Edmonton as the Oilers currently hold that fourth-round pick.