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Three former Victoria Grizzlies currently on Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League teams

For junior hockey players, making a junior A roster is a big accomplishment, potentially a path toward a future college commitment to an NCAA school. However, not every player stays in junior A.

Different opportunities open up for players on other teams and at different levels. Most often, players advance from junior A to college or Major Junior. However, the reverse can also occur where players on junior A rosters wind up back with junior B teams.

For the Victoria Grizzlies, like many other teams in the BC Hockey League, this has happened several times. Players who had roster spots on the team wound up with junior B teams. For this article, I’ll profile three players currently in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League who suited up for the Grizzlies at some point in there careers. These are just three of the eight I could have explored.

After playing for Victoria, forward Michael Hoekstra joined the Saanich Predators. After the 2021 Pod Season, Andrew Braun signed with the Predators, and Dryden DeMelo would join the Kerry Park Islanders.

These three players had different opportunities open up, which I’ll discuss in this article. I will also look at where these players could go after they age out.

Dryden DeMelo

DeMelo joined the Grizzlies roster during the 2020-21 Pod Season as a 16-year-old. New roster rules at the time allowed for teams to have three goaltenders available.

The Victoria, BC formed the Grizzlies goaltending trio with Justin Easter and Carter Woodside. Together, they backstopped the Grizzlies during the Island Pod in Port Alberni.

While Woodside became the defacto starter that season, DeMelo did play one game. On Apr. 27, 2021, he won an overtime match-up against the Cowichan Valley Capitals.

After the pod, DeMelo signed with the VIJHL’s Kerry Park Islanders for his 17-year-old season.

During 2021-22, DeMelo played 34 regular season games for the Isles and got into 10 games during the VIJHL post-season. Last June, Kerry Park moved DeMelo to the Saanich Predators in a massive trade.

Two months later, DeMelo inked a pact with the OCN Blizzard of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. However, in late September, he joined the Predators.

Like many players before him, DeMelo faced the opportunity of more playing time in junior B. In June 2021, the Grizzlies traded Easter to the Pickering Panthers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League and then recruited Kyle Kelsey to serve as the backup goaltender. As a result, there wasn’t room for DeMelo on the Grizzlies’ roster.

Andrew Braun

Like DeMelo, Braun was part of Victoria’s roster during the 2021 Pod Season after getting into three games for the Grizzlies as an affiliate player in 2019-20. In the Island Pod, the Victoria, BC native played seven games with the Grizz and notched three assists. He signed with Saanich for the 2021-22 season.

While with the Predators last season, Braun got into five games as an affiliate for the Cowichan Valley Capitals but didn’t score any points at the BCHL level. Overall, Braun scored seven goals and eight assists in 30 games with Saanich.

Braun started the 2022-23 season with the Predators but was traded to the Peninsula Panthers in late September. During his debut game with the Panthers, Braun suffered a freak knee injury and missed just over four months. He returned to Peninsula’s lineup earlier this month.

Braun’s story is similar to DeMelo’s. Going to junior B allowed him to get more playing time than the Grizzlies could provide. For example, prior to the 2021-22 season, the Grizzlies signed veteran defender Clark Hiebert from the Ontario Hockey League.

Hiebert was a key offensive contributor for the Grizzlies. Before suffering a broken elbow, he led the team with 48 assists and Braun’s offensive numbers don’t compare.

Michael Hoekstra

Before joining the Grizzlies, Hoekstra played for the South Island Royals U18 AAA team and also skated in six games for Saanich as an affiliate player.

The Victoria, BC product played for his hometown BCHL team from 2019 to 2021. In 120 games, Hoekstra scored five goals and 18 assists. However, things changed going into the 2022-23 season.

Junior A teams are allowed a max of six 20-year-old players on their rosters and Hoekstra was entering his 20-year-old season, the final one of his junior hockey career. The numbers weren’t in his favour with the Grizz and Hoekstra signed with the Predators.

Since joining Saanich, Hoekstra was named captain and is one of the top scorers in the VIJHL this season. As of this writing, he leads the Preds in scoring with 28 goals and 40 assists in just 39 games. It’s a level of offence he didn’t reach in the BCHL with the Grizzlies.

With the Predators, Hoekstra is a top-line player and the increased reliability and opportunity saw his scoring improve exponentially. These numbers may not have been possible with the Grizzlies as they wouldn’t have needed him to play that type of role.

A look to the future for these three

Braun and Hoekstra are in their final year of junior hockey while DeMelo has two more seasons of junior hockey left before aging out. DeMelo could sign with a junior A team during his final season as a 20-year-old goalie with one game of junior A experience.

As for Braun and Hoekstra, their futures could see them play for U Sports, BC Intercollegiate Hockey League, Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference, or NCAA Division III schools. Former VIJHL players from various teams have committed to schools at each of those levels. over the years.

Whatever happens, all three players found opportunities on junior B teams and are part of the Grizzlies past to varying degrees.