The Peninsula Panthers hockey team in North Saanich is grieving the loss of former head coach Brad Tippett, who passed away Friday at the age of 64.
“He was a players’ coach, there’s no doubt about it,” said Pete Zubersky, owner of the Peninsula Panthers junior B team, in an interview with CHEK News Monday.
“The players all loved him,” he said. “It was funny, the air was blue at practice every time he hit the ice. It didn’t take long to really get to know him, and he made a point of getting to know each and every guy.”
Tippett was hired as coach in 2016 after previously coaching the Regina Pats junior hockey team from 1989 until 1993. Zubersky says it was a natural fit.
“We met for a coffee. We planned a 30-minute coffee, and it took four-and-a-half hours. We were laughing our heads off. That’s how it all happened,” he recalled. “I’m going to remember him as a guy who had unbelievable passion for the game.”
Tippett was named the league’s Coach of the Year for the 2021-22 season.
But it was about two years ago when he left his role with the Panthers after 18-year-old Grant Gilbertson, a forward with the team, lost his life in a car crash while en route to practice around 6 p.m. Jan. 3, 2022.
“It took everything out of Brad. It took everything out of him,” said Zubersky. “He was super close to Gilbertson, and he never coached another game with the Peninsula Panthers after that.”
Amid the grief, the tightness of the team has “enabled them to march on,” according to Zubersky. He says the hockey community in Greater Victoria is tiny, and in the last 48 hours calls and texts of support have been non-stop.
“The players have been through an incredible amount of grief here in the last 21, 22 months. They’ll get through this as well,” he said.
“Once a Panther, always a Panther”
The owner was “in shock” when hearing of Tippett’s passing.
“I heard about this on Saturday morning,” he said. “That afternoon we were heading to Oceanside, and I planned on telling the team that he had passed as we were almost home after the game.
“But I started getting texts, and it was coming out on social media, so I let the team know on the bus just before we departed Victoria for Oceanside. You could have heard a pin drop on the bus for half the way up.”
But the team persevered, beating the Oceanside Generals 2-1 Saturday night.
In a release, the Panthers’ head coach and general manager Tyler Stanton says they’ve “always preached the team and family mentality,” adding, “Undoubtedly, TIP (Tippett) was with us there tonight and I am over the moon to be able to get this done for him tonight.
“Once a Panther, always a Panther.”
Zubersky was surprised by the win, considering the circumstances.
“It was interesting because we probably played our best game of the year, and I know that the thought of his passing was weighing on those kids tremendously,” he said. “There were seven or eight of them who had played for (Tippett) in the past.”
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@ppanthersvijhl won a pair of games on the weekend including a heart-stopper Saturday against @GeneralsJrA. But this was all overshadowed with the news of the untimely passing of Cats former Bench Boss Brad Tippett. All details up now at https://t.co/xTgrkXBr56 #ripcoach #ppants
— Peninsula Panthers (@ppanthersvijhl) October 1, 2023
Thoughts are with Tippett’s family, who confirmed to CHEK News the former hockey coach died in Regina. His cause of death has not been released.
“The hockey community has put their arms around the Peninsula Panthers over the last 48 hours,” said Zubersky. “We want to do the same for the family … I think that Brad has finally found peace, and I hope the family can do the same.”
Now Zuberksy remembers Tippett not only for his passion for the game but also for his positivity on the ice.
“He said, ‘I can have the worst day of my life and I get to the rink and as soon as I walk through the gate and my blades hit the ice, everything is forgotten, and I’m in my happy place.'”
The Panthers will host the Lake Cowichan Kraken at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Panorama Recreation Centre on Forest Park Drive in North Saanich.
Zubersky’s set to make a short address prior to the game, so fans should be in their seats by 7:25 p.m.
The Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League is sad to hear the passing of former @ppanthersvijhl head coach Brad Tippett.
We would like to send our condolences to all his friends and family at this time ❤️ pic.twitter.com/T8CQs7U50J
— VIJHL (@vijhlofficial) October 2, 2023