Story by Jeff Gard/jgsportsmedia.com
Port Hope Panthers head coach David Miller is “pretty excited” about the group of players that has been assembled for the Provincial Junior Hockey League season, which could begin in February.
That’s without even seeing the players in game action, but that’s about to change starting this Saturday as the Panthers will begin a three-game exhibition series with the Picton Pirates.
Miller pointed to a strong group of returning players, including captain Corey Saman and assistants Jarrett Desormeaux and Zeph Hlapcic.
“We’ve got a really good leadership group and then we have a really, really good skilled young group of rookies coming in,” Miller said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how the balance with our young, skilled guys and our old veteran guys works out.”
This past Sunday, the Panthers announced the series with the Pirates, with all three games being played at the Jack Burger Sports Complex in Port Hope on Saturdays, Dec. 5, 12 and 19.
While parents of the players may be able to attend, due to provincial gathering limits and COVID-19 protocols, the exhibition games will not be open to members of the general public.
“We’re very fortunate to have the support of the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge Health Unit as well as the Municipality of Port Hope and Jack Burger Sports Complex in getting our players back on the ice against the Pirates and other teams down the lineup,” Panthers general manager Alex Guiney stated in a release.
“We’ve worked very hard since getting back on the ice in November to get to this point and with the PJHL and OHF’s approval of modified 5 on 5 rules we’re looking forward to providing our players the opportunity to play meaningful games as we approach the PJHL’s February start date.”
The games will be as close to regular hockey as possible, with the exception of body checking, Miller noted. He added that players will wear masks under their helmet face shields, but the teams will play with full benches, 20 players aside, and faceoffs are permitted.
“It was look as close to a real game as possible,” Miller said.
Miller is excited to get games underway in his first season as the Panthers head coach after planning for months with Guiney. The announcement of the exhibition series certainly added a layer of excitement to practices this week.
“I’m pumped…to get back back behind the bench,” Miller said. “I know our players are excited so it was a pretty exciting week this week, to be honest with you.”
The Panthers have been practising since early November.
“At first it was just about bringing the guys together and getting them back on the ice,” Miller said. “Most of them hadn’t been skating regularly with any structure since March when everything shut down so the first little while was about getting everyone moving again, getting everyone back in shape, getting timing down, getting their hands back.”
In recent weeks, the Panthers staff has really focused on cementing its roster and instilling systems and structure for how they expect the team to play in all three zones on the ice.
“I really like a team that possesses the puck. I’m not big on dumping the puck and chasing,” Miller said. “I want my guys to hold onto it just because we work a lot to try and get the puck back…I’m not big on giving it away.”
Miller gives his defensemen the green light to jump up in the rush often, but that’s not to say offence is the only focus.
“I want to be first on the puck in the offensive zone, but I want them to be responsible, too. We’ve really stressed that over the past week or so about being responsible on the defensive side of the puck,” the coach said. “I want our team to work hard. Every game, every shift (the players) have to contribute something…and really playing a style that I think has the possibility to open games up to score, but also we can shut teams down if we need to.”