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Examining recent Victoria Grizzlies alumni to play in the ECHL

When looking back at several Victoria Grizzlies alumni, I noticed many made their pro hockey debut in the ECHL. These players took similar paths to those Grizzlies alumni who made their pro debuts in the American Hockey League. The only difference is that they debuted in the ECHL first.

In fact, several players are still playing in the ECHL while others went to different pro leagues to continue their playing careers. Meanwhile, others have taken their pro careers to Europe. For this article, I want to spotlight several of these players.

Like my last article on Grizzlies alumni in the AHL, the same rules apply here, I’m limiting the period from 2011 to 2016. I’m also limiting my examples simply because I can’t include every player.

Current alumni in the ECHL

The first example is defender Blake Thompson, who came to Victoria for the 2012-13 season from the St. Mary Lincolns of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. After finishing his junior career with Victoria, Thompson went on to play NCAA Division III hockey.

Thompson spent four seasons at St. Norbert’s College before making his ECHL debut, turning pro and playing two games for the Orlando Solar Bears during the 2016-17 season.

After his ECHL debut, Thompson joined the Southern Professional Hockey League’s Evansville Thunderbolts for the 2017-18 season. That same season, the Thunderbolts loaned Thompson to two ECHL teams. He played 11 games for the Cincinnati Cyclones and 44 games for the Adirondack Thunder.

Thompson joined the Thunder full-time for the 2018-19 season and has played in Adirondack since then. Earlier this season, he was loaned to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL.

My second example is Ayden MacDonald, who played 45 games for Victoria during the 2014-15 season. He finished his junior career with Cowichan Valley after being traded from the Grizz to the Caps in May 2015. From 2017 to 2022, MacDonald attended Brock University and played U SPORTS hockey in St. Catherines, ON.

In early January, the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits signed MacDonald to a standard player’s contract. He ended up fifth in scoring for the Swamp Rabbits this season with 20 goals and 33 points in 43 games.

Grizzlies alumni out of the ECHL

The first example of former players who aren’t in the ECHL anymore is Pearce Eviston. Eviston was an affiliate for the Grizzlies during the 2009-10 season before signing with Alberni Valley for the rest of the year. He then rejoined Victoria for 2010-11, getting into 44 games before jumping to the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League for a pair of regular season games

Eviston’s rights in the BCHL were traded from Victoria to Vernon in September 2011. He spent the 2011-12 season in the WHL but came back to the BC Hockey League for 2012-13. Eviston played 34 games for the Vipers before being moved back to the Grizzlies at the 2013 BCHL trade deadline.

Eviston didn’t play hockey in 2013-14 as he recovered from a hip injury. He signed a tryout with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL for 2014-15 but was traded to the Quad City Mallards before the season started. The Vancouver, BC native played a pair of games for the Mallards in 2015-16 and retired during the season.

My final example of a recent Grizzlies alumnus to skate in the ECHL is forward Michael Colantone. Over parts of three seasons, Colantone played 61 games for Victoria. He was traded to Prince George on Sept. 26, 2011, and finished his junior career with the Spruce Kings.

From 2012 to 2015, Colantone attended the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and played NCAA Division I hockey. Early into the 2015-16 season, Colantone left UMass-Lowell and turned pro with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL, playing 40 games.

For the 2016-17 season, Colantone signed with the SPHL’s Peoria Rivermen. That same season, Colantone was loaned to two different ECHL teams. He played one game for the Fuel and nine games for the Colorado Eagles. After the 2016-17 season, Colantone retired from professional hockey.

Career lengths

When writing about Grizzlies alumni with ECHL or AHL experience, I noticed a common occurrence, and that’s that several of them spent time with a number of different clubs during their pro careers.

Players who debut in one league can play their way into other leagues at a higher level. Blake Thompson is an example of this. He may play for Adirondack, but he’s gotten a chance to play for the AHL’s Wolf Pack this season. Upward movement for players is possible, sometimes it’s only a matter of time.

On the other hand, some careers are shorter than others. Players may only get in a handful of seasons before retiring for one reason or another. Although these are just four former Grizzlies who spent time in the ECHL after playing in Victoria, there are bound to be many others in the future as they try and carve out a living while playing hockey.