Across their history, the Victoria Grizzlies have developed several connections with the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. The junior B league has acted as a proving ground for several future Grizzlies.
Aside from players, Victoria has recruited coaches and ownership from the VIJHL as well. Both Pete Zubersky, who is a former Grizzlies co-owner, and current general manager and head coach Craig Didmon came from VIJHL teams.
On top of players and personnel, the Grizzlies have other close connections with two VIJHL teams specifically. They currently share The Q Centre with the Westshore Wolves and used to share it with the now-defunct Westshore Stingers. This is something I discussed in a previous article.
In this article, I’ll note the VIJHL teams with strong connections to the Grizzlies. I’ll also talk about the personnel that joined the Grizzlies from said VIJHL teams. Before that, I want to talk about changes coming to the VIJHL.
The VIJHL proving ground
Within Greater Victoria, there are four VIJHL teams. There is the Westshore Wolves in Colwood and the Victoria Cougars in Esquimalt. Plus the Saanich Predators in Saanich and the Peninsula Panthers in North Saanich.
While the Grizzlies have recruited from several VIJHL teams, they’ve recruited most often from the Peninsula Panthers.
In addition to the Benn brothers, other former Panthers include Ryan O’Byrne, Luc Pelletier, and Marty Westhaver.
Speaking of Westhaver, his brother Andy currently plays for the Westshore Wolves. On occasion, the Grizzlies have called him up as an affiliate player. Another former Wolves player is Jake Veilleux, who split the 2018-19 season between Westshore and the Grizzlies.
Just graduated Grizzlies defenseman Reid Lindsay joined the team after playing for Saanich in the VIJHL in 2018-19. Before joining the Braves, Lindsay played for the Campbell River Storm and actually started the season with Victoria before returning to junior B.
Another former Grizzlies forward from the VIJHL is Myles Powell, who played for the Comox Valley Glacier Kings before jumping to junior A.
And it’s not just forwards and defensemen who came from these junior B teams. Former Grizzlies goaltender Blake Wood played for the Nanaimo Buccaneers before joining the BCHL.
These are just a handful of players from the VIJHL who ended up on the Grizzlies roster.
Coaches starting out
Zubersky has been the long-time owner of the Peninsula Panthers. He’s also served as general manager (twice), vice-president, and minority owner of the Grizzlies. In 2016, Mark Stevens bought out Zubersky’s five percent ownership stake.
In 2003, Zubersky was GM of the Salsa and during the 2013-14 season, he returned to the job with the Grizzlies. For the 2014-15 season, Zubersky served as Grizzlies vice-president before selling his ownership stake.
Before joining the Grizzlies staff in 2007-08, Didmon started his coaching career with the Victoria Cougars in the VIJHL. From 2002-07, he served as their GM and head coach.
During the 2014-15 season, Didmon became the full-time GM and head coach as a mid-season replacement and has served in both roles ever since.
Past and future players
There are dozens of players I haven’t mentioned in this article. Players like Mike Hammond played for the Victoria Cougars before joining the Grizzlies. Garry Nunn also played for the junior B Cougars before signing with the BCHL club.
There are many more not listed here. Players like Finn Withey, who played two games for the Grizzlies, spent time with the Storm and Glacier Kings before coming to Victoria.
The website eliteprospects.com keeps track of former VIJHL players. It has whereabouts on 203 skaters and 30 goalies. With the Kraken and Bombers joining the VIJHL, there are no doubt more players coming for the Grizzlies to look at.
It’s a certainty that more VIJHL players will join the Grizzlies, and as early as the 2021-22 season. With so many junior B teams in their own backyard, it makes recruiting from the league an easy endeavour and will continue to foster the connection between the VIJHL and Victoria’s BCHL squad.