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Port Moody Panthers keeping the faith and trusting the process — even after an injury-ridden 2021-22 campaign

The PJHL franchise only earned three wins this past year, but GM Brian Wiebe believes opportunity and experience can go a long way in developing a winning formula.
The Port Moody Panthers embrace each other after scoring a goal during a 2021-22 PJHL regular-season game.

There may be no such thing as a perfect season in hockey, but there are learning curves in each and every one of them.

That was the 2021-22 campaign for the Port Moody Panthers.

Their season started on a positive note after winning the opening contest 4-1 on Sept. 10 while on the road in Ridge Meadows, but victories were much harder to come by as available players started to whether away.

In the end, the standings showed the team finished with a 3-41 record, the worst year since the Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL) began publishing the standings online in 2006.

However, under the Panthers' circumstances, general manager Brian Wiebe believes hitting the ice is about more than just scoring goals than the other team at the end of the day.

"The biggest improvement was how our rookie players learned how to be everyday junior hockey players," he explained in an interview with the Tri-City News.

"For some, the adjustment took longer than others, but that was one improvement we saw over the course of the season."

And that's exactly the position Port Moody found themselves early in the season when some of their top players went down for the count.

The injuries seemingly piled on every time the Panthers were on the road to recovery, which led to a total of 17 signings for younger affiliate players across the region.

"The biggest challenge was icing a healthy lineup every night," Wiebe adds.

"We only had two games during the entire season where we were able to have an extra player not dressed. [...] it seemed like every time we got close to having a healthy lineup, another couple of players would go down with injuries."

Eight of Port Moody's top-12 scorers by year's end were rookies with Ryan Tong leading the way at 33 points in 29 games — including a team-high 23 assists — before he was ultimately traded to the Langley Trappers.

He was also able to turn heads from junior 'A' coaches and scouts in the province in committing to the Langley Rivermen in the BC Hockey League (BCHL) for the 2022-23 season.

Tong was also one of three Port Moody athletes to earn an affiliate promotion this past year along side captain Daniel Dallapace (Nanaimo Clippers) and Andrew Kim (Coquitlam Express).

It's milestones like these, Wiebe says, also give meaning to playing in a Tri-City hockey market — especially for younger players looking for a shot at developing their skills for the future.

"A major strength looking ahead to 2022-23 is that, for any new players joining the Panthers, our team represents opportunity," he explains.

"When you have a season like the one we did, our returning players know they'll be pushed by incoming recruits and any other players we acquire."

The Panthers' two other wins on the year were as follows:

The Knights also had a trying season, but manage to squeak in a better outcome on paper than Port Moody at a record of 4-39-0-1.

Looking back at the stats, the Panthers were seemingly able to keep up with their opponents in losing six games by one goal and seven by two.

Looking forward to the fall, Wiebe says he hopes the team can create "conversations" about player development in a city where hockey means more to athletes, coaches and the community.

"The next step is to continue to highlight our program as one that develops players to play at a higher level. With three players on our roster affiliated with BCHL teams and others who attracted conversations with teams at that level as well as the WHL and college, our endgame remains to help the young men on our team grow on and off the ice."

For the fans, Wiebe is grateful to those that came out to cheer on the athletes as loud as they could.

He also has a message for those who may be on the fence about continuing to support Port Moody's top hockey club.

"There's no need to be worried about the future of the Panthers franchise," said Wiebe.

"We definitely didn't achieve the number of wins this past season that we hoped, but with the number of rookie players we had and the challenges of staying healthy, we think there are a number of positives to take away from how things went."

The Port Moody Panthers are scheduled to begin a spring identification camp for prospective roster and affiliated players for the 2022-23 PJHL schedule.

It's set to take place May 30 to June 2 at Planet Ice Coquitlam.

For more information, you can visit the Port Moody Panthers' website.