The UPEI Panthers will do something in 2021 they haven’t done in their 50-year history.
The Panthers will play in the U Sports men’s national hockey championship on Prince Edward Island in 2021 for the first time after being awarded the right to host the marquee tournament.
“This is going to be the second time the national championship has ever been hosted on P.E.I., (but) the first time that UPEI will be participating,” Panthers’ head coach Forbes MacPherson said.
UPEI hosted the national championship in 1969-70, the first year of the Panthers hockey program, but UPEI didn’t qualify for the event. At the time, the tournament saw the four conference winners play for the national title and UPEI lost to Saint Mary’s in the conference final.
Toronto won the nationals at the Charlottetown Forum in Year 2 of its five-year championship run.
Thinking of hosting the nationals, MacPherson’s mind quickly turns to the people who have supported the program since its inception, through the glory years and some tougher days.
He said the announcement comes at a great time as it prepares for its 50th season this year. There are numerous events being planned throughout the year to mark that history.
And with the nationals coming in 2021 it will provide another chance for the program to reflect but also look forward.
“The gathering of the alumni for a weekend, the collection of all of our fans and season ticket holders and friends and family in a packed rink, supporting the program, those are all the things that will provide another boost of energy and excitement into a program that’s been building.”
Dave Shellington is the Panthers’ all-time leading scorer. He wore the UPEI jersey at two nationals and is excited by the news.
“I think it’s huge for the program,” he said. “I know they’ve been working really hard to kind of get this in place for a number of years. . .
“The opportunity to host it at home, I think, all alumni are going to take a lot of pride in it.”
The City of Charlottetown was involved in the bid process through its Score! Sport Charlottetown program.
Wayne Long, Charlottetown’s events development officer, said the March 17-21, 2021, event brings lots of prosperity during the shoulder tourism season. It has an estimated destination impact of $2 million.
“It’s certainly going to bring stimulation to our hotels, to our restaurants, to our retail outlets,” he said. “It’s a high-profile event in terms of the Canadian landscape.”
The men’s championship, he said, is a highly sought-after event that traditionally has gone to a large centre like Halifax or hockey powerhouse like UNB in Fredericton, N.B., when it has come to the Maritimes.
Long said they are hoping to use the success of the women’s hockey championship to springboard into hosting the men’s tourney. MacPherson said he sees the potential for even more events down the road.
“We want to knock it out of the park so that we become a host destination,” MacPherson said.
Athletics director Chris Huggan said he is looking at more nationals after the next two already-announced events are complete.
“I hope ’22, ’23, ’24,” he said. “We’re ecstatic to have women’s, we’re really, really happy to have men’s, but I don't think we stop there. We want every one of our programs to be able to compete at the national level.”