The Port Moody Panthers are back on the ice tonight (Jan. 4), beginning a stint of three games in five days following a 1-1 outing at the 2023 Winter Classic.
The franchise's upcoming schedule summarizes its need for positive results and quick turnarounds if they want to have a chance at making the Pacific Junior 'B' Hockey League (PJHL) playoffs for the first time since 2012.
And that goal is very much obtainable considering Port Moody's improvement from its three-win campaign last year.
The Panthers currently stand at 11-22-1-0 after winning one of their two Winter Classic games in Richmond over the New Year's weekend.
Rookie forward Ty Balchen scored the game-winning goal in Port Moody's 3-1 win over the Grandview Steelers on Dec. 30, while Derek Leroux picked up two assists to his team-leading 26th and 27th points of the 2022-23 campaign.
"We felt we controlled most of the game in all areas and it was great to see the players believe in themselves," Panthers general manager Brian Wiebe told the Tri-City News after the contest.
It was a tougher test on Sunday (Jan. 1), however, as the cats fell 5-1 to the Ridge Meadows Flames.
Though their record is below .500 and only 14 regular-season games remaining, Port Moody is still within reach of a playoff spot in the Tom Shaw Conference. The top four teams in each of the PJHL's two divisions will qualify for the post-season.
In baseball terms, the Panthers are 7.5 games behind the White Rock Whalers, whom they'll meet in a home-and-home series this weekend.
Wiebe believes this will be a real test of his players' strength, leadership and resilience.
"We hope [the PJHL Winter Classic] sets the tone for our upcoming games as we have a very busy January with 10 games in 28 days, including three sets of back-to-backs," he explained.
"A successful run here is imperative as we look to secure a playoff position."
The race for the playoffs begins tonight on the road at 7:15 p.m. when Port Moody faces off with the Aldergrove Kodiaks.
The Panthers will then meet the Whalers in White Rock Saturday night (Jan. 7) before returning home to host their division rivals Sunday (Jan. 8), 8 p.m. at Port Moody Arena.
Food for all
Off the ice, Port Moody Panthers' supporters recently contributed their time and generosity in making sure hundreds of Tri-Cities families had food on the table in time for New Year's.
On Dec. 29, the team hauled in 200 pounds of non-perishable food items to SHARE Family and Community Services, which were collected during the Panthers' three home games last month.