Panthers mask up
The Pelham Panthers figure it is better to be safe than sorry.
The Panthers began to wear two kinds of masks this week on ice while practising and plan to do the same when they play in scrimmages versus other teams.
“It’s a lot different than what everybody else is doing but we think this is the way to prolong playing and hopefully get playing into more than the bubble of 50 eventually,” Panthers owner Tim Toffolo said.
The Panthers are using two new products which recently became available — a black mask that attaches to the helmet for players who wear a cage and a clear, plastic splashguard for players who wear a shield.
Panther coaches also wear masks while on the ice and behind the bench.
Toffolo said the idea to wear the masks is an extension of what is going on in society due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m trying to get the message across that at the end of the day other areas are getting closed down and it’s because they aren’t wearing masks. Anytime you can were a mask, everything is OK,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is limit the exposure that can happen and this is one way.
“When CCM and Bauer come out with products we can wear on the ice, it’s the same thing. It’s only natural we use those things because that is going to help as well.
“If we’re not using them, then why are we wearing masks the rest of the time? It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Toffolo said the Panthers understand the extra precaution.
“Do I want to wear one? No. Do the guys what to wear them? No. But we understand it is going to allow us to continue to play and practice the game we love.”
Panthers defenceman Jason Gee said it was an easy sell to persuade the players to wear the extra protection.
“I think it’s extremely important to protect our teammates, our coaches and other teams as well,” said Gee, an 18-year-old native of Kitchener. “I know the group of guys we have are extremely dedicated and we’re willing to do anything to get back to playing hockey Dec. 2.
“We’re trying to be as proactive as we can and try and get back to some sort of normalcy.”
Gee said the extra protection can be uncomfortable — his shield was fogging up while being interviewed — but that is a small price to pay to be able to play.
“That’s the way it goes and you have to battle through little things,” he said. “I know for the greater good of playing hockey and for the greater good of our community, we’re extremely excited to do whatever we can.”
The Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League has set a date of Dec. 2 to begin the regular season, pending government approval. The Panthers and Fort Erie Meteors have been playing no-contact scrimmages as have the St. Catharines Falcons and Niagara Falls Canucks.
“It’s fantastic. You get that rush of being out there,” Gee said. “You want to compete with your teammates and against others. It’s been an amazing experience. I’m just honoured and humbled that we have this opportunity. Whatever it takes to get back to playing hockey, I know we’re extremely dedicated to doing it.”
The Panthers have been working out at the Pelham Community Centre since July and, like other teams, have been taking extra measures to remain socially distanced.
“We do everything we can to keep the environment as safe as possible,” Toffolo said. “If anybody has any kind of symptoms, they don’t come to the rink. They have to quarantine at home and get a COVID test.”
Toffolo said one player is currently at home and will be tested. Since the Panthers began in July, no one has tested positive.
“I think we all feel safe. Everybody is very, very comfortable,” Toffolo said.
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