The hockey community on Vancouver Island is in mourning after an 18-year-old junior player lost his life in a car crash on the way to practice with his Peninsula Panthers.
Grant Gilbertson, a forward for the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League club, was involved in a vehicle collision along Sooke Road on Monday evening.
According to RCMP, the incident took place on January 3 at approximately 6 p.m. near Humpback Road in Langford and, at this time, it appears that icy conditions played a major role in the cause of the accident.
It was confirmed by West Shore RCMP on Tuesday that the collision was fatal and that Gilbertson succumbed to his injuries at the scene of the crash.
According to the Peninsula Panthers hockey team, Gilbertson was en route to a scheduled practice at the Panorama Rec Centre in North Saanich before the crash occurred.
“I drove to the rink for practice around 5:30 pm and the roads were absolutely fine but when I arrived in the parking lot at the Panorama I could see that it looked really greasy,” said Panthers owner Pete Zubersky.
“Grant’s Mom called me a while later and said that she had heard that there had been an accident in the 4-lane near Humpback Road and she was worried that it might be Grant. I checked the dressing rooms downstairs and nobody had heard from him and so a few of the guys tried to contact him without any luck. When he didn’t show for practice and didn’t get to practice, I was getting really concerned as well.”
Zubersky recalls that the news of the incident arrived with about 20 minutes left in the practice and describes the moment as “devastating.”
“I cannot explain the grief we felt as a group, it was palpable. I am just so saddened by this situation and I know that Grant’s family and friends have had their hearts ripped out,” Zubersky says.
“This is really a true tragedy in every sense of the word and our Organization’s every thought, every second of every day is on Grant and his family.”
Gilbertson is described by the team’s brass as a player who was “blossoming into one of the upper-echelon forwards in the league,” and while the club’s players are grieving the loss of their talented teammate, they have chosen to move on with their scheduled games — with the blessing of the family — as Zubersky believes that’s what Gilbertson would want.
“We strongly believe that the players need to be together, to be able to work through their grief with the support of each other. There has been an incredible amount of love and support from the other Organizations in the League. We all battle and compete night in and night out but everyone closed ranks immediately when this happened,” said Zubersky.
The owner recalls a previous loss in the community from 2001 when player Steve Simpson died in a motor vehicle accident on the morning of a game.
“I went to the Simpson’s home and spoke for an hour with Steve’s mother and we agreed that it was best to play, that it is what Steve would have wanted. I feel the same today,” recalled Zubersky.
“It is the right thing to do,” he added. “The Panthers were extremely important to Grant and I know in my heart that he would want his teammates to play.”