The island hockey community gathered together Friday night at the Panorama Recreation Centre not just to take in the matchup between the Peninsula Panthers and the Victoria Cougars, but to remember and celebrate the life of Panthers player Grant Gilbertson.
Just days after his death in a motor vehicle collision, the 18-year-old’s family, friends and teammates took the time to mourn his loss together in a special pre-game ceremony.
“He was our loyal friend, our teammate, our boyfriend,” said grandfather Don Colegrave. “More than a grandson, he was my friend. He is our son, our brother, my grandson and we loved him.”
Colegrave said hockey defined Gilbertson from the moment he was old enough to play with mini sticks. Dedicated to improving himself, Gilbertson would shoot at least 100 pucks per day and worked every shift to be the fastest player on the ice.
“I asked him once why he was working so hard at being a quick skater,” said Colegrave. “He looked at me sending a message of mild disdain. ‘Well, the game is easier to play if you are the fastest player on the ice and you can handle the puck.’”
Off the ice, Colegrave said Gilbertson was kind and always insisted on fairness despite his thirst for competition and victory.
“Grant loved those he cared for without reservation. You were lucky to be one of those people.”
Between speakers, photomontages, video messages of condolence from NHL players, and even a humorous video of Gilbert’s “Rookie Idol” performance during an earlier road trip were played on the jumbotron.
In the stands, a capacity crowd limited by COVID protocols watched on in silence with many dampened cheeks. On the Panthers’ bench, players bowed their heads and sat with arms around each other’s shoulders no doubt pained by memories of their teammate and friend.
Panther’s captain Riley Braun said he will always remember Gilbertson for his sense of humour.
“He was a guy that always lit up the room when he walked in,” Braun said. “He was always up to something. Just a few weeks ago, a guy on our team, Julian Phillips, came to practice in flip-flops when there was a blizzard outside.
“Of course, Grant didn’t like that too much, so after practice, Grant took the flip-flops and put them out in his truck. Phillips is looking high and low for his flip-flops, he’s even putting it in our team chat. Meanwhile, Grant is sitting outside chuckling.”
Braun said Gilbertson’s goal was to win the championship this year, and it is now the entire team’s goal to do it in his name.
In memory of Gilbertson, Panthers owner and general manager Pete Zubersky said the club is retiring his number, 26, and is creating the Grant Gilbertson Memorial Friendship Award, which will be presented by the team captain to a deserving player at the end of each season.