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Guarding the den: A look at the Victoria Grizzlies goalies


The Victoria Grizzlies have three goalies on their extended training camp roster. Returning from last season is veteran goalie Blake Wood, joining the team as a junior A rookie is Justin Easter, and taking part in the extended training camp is Adam Manji.

All three goalies are part of the Grizzlies extended training camp 30 player bubble. All three goalies are looking to help the Grizzlies win the inaugural Island Cup.

These three goalies have come to the Grizzlies from different places and each is also playing a different role for the team. Some are providing veteran leadership, while others are filling in as replacements.

They join a Grizzlies team looking to rebound after last season’s first-round playoff loss. It was the season where the team finished fifth in the Island Division and dealt with a major injury to one of their goaltenders.

Liam Souliere was injured during the pre-season and it prompted the Grizzlies to trade for Wood. Even after Souliere came back, Wood had won a permanent spot on the team. General manager and head coach Craig Didmon traded Joe Howe to the Coquitlam Express for future considerations.

Tracing their paths to the Grizzlies shows what each goalie can bring to the team. It can also show a progression in skill level year after year and instances when the goalies were recognized for their skills and abilities.

Beginning with 2003-born Adam Manji, he won’t be a permanent member of the team. He’s already committed to the Port Moody Panthers of the Pacific Junior Hockey League. Manji is on the roster because COVID-19 restrictions prevent teams from calling up affiliate players.

From Nanaimo to Hagersville and beyond

Wood began his junior career with the Nanaimo Buccaneers of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. His first season with Nanaimo in 2017-18 saw him play 24 games and finish with a 2.93 goals-against-average and a .909 save percentage.

During 2018-19, Wood started the season in junior B with Nanaimo before signing with the Cowichan Valley Capitals. Comparing Wood’s numbers between the Buccaneers and Capitals show a stark difference. With the Caps, his GAA was 3.84, and save percentage was .892.

Before the 2019-20 season, Wood committed to the Nanaimo Clippers and only played one game before being traded to the Grizzlies. He was 7-13-0 with a 3.81 GAA and a .901 save percentage in Victoria last season.

Easter began his junior career with the Hagersville Hawks of the Provincial Junior Hockey League in 2018-19.

The PJHL is a massive 64-team junior C league in Ontario. It’s composed of eight junior C leagues that merged in 2016. With the Hawks, Easter had a 2.17 GAA and a .921 save percentage in 26 games.

During the 2019-20 season, Wood made the jump to junior B and joined the Hamilton Kilty B’s of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.

Easter’s stats with Hamilton are impressive. In 30 games with the team, his record was 19-9-4 with a 2.26 GAA and a .927 save percentage.

During last season with the Grizzlies, Wood’s stats weren’t as good as his stats in junior B with the Bucs. Despite this, Wood was recognized as BCHL player of the week for his performance in December 2019.

In two games against the Clippers when he won the POW honours, Wood made a combined 80 saves on 84 shots. It’s that kind of play that solidified his position on the team.

As for Easter, he was selected as Golden Horseshoe Conference First Team All-Star last season.

What each player brings to the team

Wood is the veteran player. He provided the Grizzlies with steady goaltending during a chaotic season. When the Grizzlies traded Howe to the Express, Wood earned a permanent spot in Victoria. He is one of 10 players returning from last season.

Easter is the rookie and his career stats show him getting better with each team he plays for. He’s one of 11 rookie players joining the Grizzlies for 2020-2 and will look to provide the Grizzlies with goaltending depth beyond this season.

The Island Cup is the first BCHL action Easter will take part in. It is also the first time since February that Wood has played any games.

COVID-19 forced the league and teams to adapt. Normally, the Grizzlies would’ve played the first month of their regular season by now. Both Wood and Easter are looking to help the Grizz win in an uncertain time.

The Grizzlies crease is manned by a veteran workhorse, a rookie on the rise, and an emergency backup. Manji is in the BC capital as insurance if Wood or Easter gets injured. He’ll be there until the Island Cup is over and after that, the Grizzlies will start the 2020-21 BCHL season with the tandem of Easter and Wood.