Grant Gilbertson, an 18-year-old forward with the Peninsula Panthers of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, was driving to a Panthers hockey practice when he was killed Monday evening in a crash on Sooke Road near Humpback Road in suspected icy conditions.
Panthers owner Pete Zubersky said the team heard the news near the end of practice.
“It is just terrible, terrible news,” Zubersky said. “It was devastating. I can’t explain the grief we felt as a group. I know that Grant’s family and friends have had their hearts ripped out. This is a tragedy in every sense of the word and our organization’s every thought is on Grant and his family.”
The crash happened about 6 p.m. West Shore RCMP said initial evidence showed a Honda Civic was travelling eastbound on Sooke Road when it lost control, veering into the oncoming lane of the Ford Escape that was travelling westbound. Bystanders attempted first aid at the scene, but the male driver did not survive.
Zubersky described Gilbertson as an emerging leader in the dressing room and on the ice: “Grant was such a great guy. We have a very tight team and Grant was part of our leadership group.”
The team will honour the player with a perpetual Grant Gilbertson Memorial Trophy that will go annually to the “glue guy” who best holds the team together through the season, Zubersky said.
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UPDATE: The league has cancelled tonight's Panthers vs. Westshore Wolves game at The Q Centre to allow time for mourning. Panthers players will honour their teammate on Friday night when they play at Panorama Recreation Centre against the Victoria Cougars.
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The Panthers,16-1 in their last 17 games, are being buoyed by teams around the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, said Zubersky, who has been involved with the Panthers since 1999. “There has been an incredible amount of love and support from the other teams in our league. We all battle and compete night in and night out, but everyone closed ranks immediately when this happened.”
The Panthers will conduct a 30-minute ceremony to celebrate Gilbertson’s life at 7:30 p.m. Friday, ahead of their home game at Panorama.
Gilbertson was the second-line centre of the Panthers and also on the power play.
“He was in his second season with our team and was a wonderful player and person who was coming into his own in hockey and in life,” said Zubersky. “He struggled on the ice in his rookie season but was really taking off this season.”
Gilbertson was from Sooke and graduated out of the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey Association.
It’s the second time a Panthers player has died in an automobile accident. Steve Simpson died Nov. 2, 2001, on the morning of a game against the Oceanside Generals.