Victoria Grizzlies Island Cup aftermath


The Island Cup has come and gone after the Nanaimo Clippers defeated the Victoria Grizzlies 5-4. In a close matchup, the Clippers captured the inaugural title for a tournament created because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

While the BCHL waits to begin its regular season, there were some surprises to emerge from the tournament. The first surprise was despite not winning the Island Cup, Victoria emerged with the top three points earners in the entire BCHL.

Alex DiPaolo, Cody Monds, and Ellis Rickwood scored a combined 66 points during the extended training camp season. DiPaolo and Monds are veteran BCHLers, while Rickwood is a rookie.

The second surprise is the rise of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs as a serious challenger for the Grizzlies. While Victoria earned a guaranteed finals berth in the Islan Cup, I thought the Bulldogs would face them instead of the Clippers.

In early Island Cup matches, the Grizzlies were the dominant team. That changed after one game in late mid-October which saw the Bulldogs emerge as a serious contender.

The final surprise is that this tournament was even completed at all. With the rise in COVID-19 infection rates, it’s a minor miracle that the Grizzlies were able to play all of their planned games.

The Powell River Kings didn’t play a single game because of restrictions in Coastal Health. Outbreaks in that region and Fraser Health caused several games to postponed and then cancelled altogether.

Having a tournament like this successfully completed shows that junior hockey can operate during a pandemic. The people running things have to be smart and careful about how they do it, and thankfully, the organizers got very lucky.

Star players and challenges

Rickwood is a future star player for the Grizzlies. He came to Victoria from the Hamilton Kilty B’s and Grizzlies rookie goaltender Justin Easter was a teammate of his there.

Rickwood had impressive numbers in junior B and continued producing since joining the Grizzlies. He scored nine goals and 12 assists in 15 games and is poised to be the top point producer for the Grizzlies after Alex Dipaolo and Cody Monds age out of the team.

Moving on, we have the rise of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs as a serious challenger for the Grizzlies. Their first matchup saw the Grizzlies win 7-1 but things changed after the Oct. 23 game against the Bulldogs. The Grizzlies won the game 9-8 in a shootout, but the score does not tell the whole story.

At the end of the second period, the Grizzlies led the game 7-3. In the third period, the Bulldogs kept coming back and eventually forced overtime. It was a shootout goal from Rickwood that won the game for Victoria. However, after that game, the Grizzlies couldn’t beat the Bulldogs again, due to several factors.

The Grizzlies suffered several injuries while the Bulldogs tinkered with their roster. Bulldogs forwards Stephen Castagna and Oak MacLeod became major offensive contributors for the team. Their offensive output helped Alberni Valley contend for the Island Cup.

Speaking of the Island Cup, it is amazing the tournament finished. The Okanagan and Island Cup competitions finished before new provincial health restrictions took effect.

COVID-19 chaos

After Oct. 24, the Cowichan Valley Capitals didn’t get in another game. The Capitals were set to join a two-team cohort with the Powell River Kings. As noted above, the Kings had their games cancelled because of COVID-19 restrictions in Coastal Health.

Additionally, the Surrey Eagles, Coquitlam Express, Chilliwack Chiefs, and Langley Rivermen never played any games after Nov. 7.

The Cranbrook Bucks pre-season ended on Nov. 19 because of new province-wide restrictions. Their season was supposed to end on Nov. 27 with a game against the Trail Smoke Eaters.

To have a tournament like this complete its run without being stopped is miraculous. Right now, there will not be any games until January at the earliest.

The people who organized the Island Cup should be commended for their work. New players got their chance to shine while new challengers emerged.

Hockey will come back in some form in the New Year. When it does, the Victoria Grizzlies will get even more offensive production from Rickwood. They will also see Alberni Valley become a better team.

If the extended training camp is any indication, the Bulldogs can rival the Grizzlies and become serious challengers for the best teams in the Coastal Conference.