White Rock Whalers win season-opener, prepare for home tilt Saturday

White Rock Whalers president and team owner Ronnie Paterson (inset photo) said the organization is ‘invigorated’ to have some fans allowed to attend their games. The PJHL team is set to host its home-opener Saturday at Centennial Arena. (Jody Harris photo)

PJHL team to host Grandview Steelers Saturday at Centennial Arena.

The White Rock Whalers opened the Pacific Junior Hockey League season with a win this week, and now they’re looking to make it two in a row at their home-opener this weekend.

On Tuesday at the Ladner Leisure Centre, the Whalers edged the Delta Ice Hawks 4-3 in a shootout, and on Saturday night (Sept. 11), they’ll host the Grandview Steelers at Centennial Arena. Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m.

The game will mark the Peninsula junior ‘B’ team’s long-awaited return to its home rink, after last year’s season – as abbreviated as it was due to the COVID-19 pandemic – in which the team played its home games in Richmond and elsewhere, as health protocols in the City of White Rock at the time did not allow for games to be played locally.

Now, however, “it’s very much business as usual,” according to Whalers team owner Ronnie Paterson.

There are, of course, some caveats. For starters, Centennial Arena will only operate at 50 per cent capacity for home games – which Paterson told Peace Arch News translates to “a couple hundred fans” – and everyone inside the building will be required to wear masks, as per provincial COVID-19 health protocols.

Masks will be required in dressing rooms too, he noted, though players will not wear them on the ice.

“It’s been challenging times for all of us… but we’re very excited, and we’re invigorated to have some fans able to come out and watch us play,” Paterson said.

“We’re hoping for a full season, COVID-free.”

On Tuesday, the Whalers leapt out to an early lead when Matthew Burry scored seven minutes into the first period, but the Ice Hawks scored twice later in the period – the second goal came with just two seconds left in the frame – to take a slim 2-1 lead into the second.

White Rock’s Chris Fortems scored to tie the game midway through the period, and the two squads traded goals in the third – Samuel Dowell scored for the Whalers – to send the game to extra time.

Neither team could break the deadlock in overtime, and in the shootout, White Rock won on a goal from Zachary Sherwin.

Whalers goaltender Daniel Zuvic stopped all three Delta shootout attempts, while also making 38 saves in the game itself.

Following Saturday’s home tilt against Grandview, the Whalers will travel up the road for a Sept. 16 road game against the Surrey Knights. Their second home game is scheduled for Sept. 18 against the Ridge Meadows Flames.