The community is mourning the sudden death of 18-year-old Sooke resident Grant Gilbertson, who played for the Peninsula Panthers in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League.
Pete Zubersky, Panthers owner and general manager, confirmed Gilbertson died in a motor vehicle collision on the way to practice shortly before 6 p.m. Monday en route from Sooke.
The collision near the intersection of Sooke and Humpback roads closed the highway for several hours before re-opening early Tuesday morning. West Shore RCMP said icy road conditions contributed to the collision with the investigation on-going.
A former police officer, Zubersky said news of Gilbertson’s death hit him like a ton of bricks, adding he is still trying to process what happened. “I just feel for his family,” he said, his voice quivering.
Gilbertson was a great hockey player and an even better young man, Zubersky said.
Gilbertson’s death marks the second loss of an individual closely associated with the team in recent months. On Oct. 14, long-time team photographer Gordon Lee died.
The last Panthers player who was the victim of a crash while a member of the team was 20-year-old Steve Simpson, who died in the early morning hours of Nov. 2, 2001, on the Pat Bay Highway. The driver of the vehicle in which Simpson was riding as a passenger was impaired, according to a report published in the Peninsula News Review.
Simpson’s team captain at the time, Jeff Lawson, actually passed the scene of Monday’s crash on his way to coaching, Zubersky said, and actually asked officers if he could see whether any of his players were involved.
The Panthers have postponed their Wednesday night game in Colwood against the Westshore Wolves and plan to hold a special ceremony honouring Gilbertson before Friday’s home game (Jan. 7) against the Victoria Cougars.
Zubersky said Gilbertson’s family has agreed with the team’s decision to continue playing. Zubersky later said that the team would dedicate the rest of the season to Gilbertson, with the team naming a trophy after him. “(That) is what he would have wanted and that is what our players need,” he said. “It will allow them to be together and be in a position to support each other.”
Gilbertson played 52 regular and exhibition games for the Panthers over two seasons. He had blossomed into one of the team’s top offensive players this season, scoring 16 goals and adding 25 assists in 38 games.
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