Kim Arthurs

Youth movement underway for the Victoria Grizzlies


The Victoria Grizzlies management team has the difficult job this offseason of constructing a competitive hockey team to bounce back after a disappointing 2019-20 season. The Grizzlies last season finished with a record of 22-33-1 and were swept in round one of the playoffs by the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.

General manager and head coach Craig Didmon has a lot of work to do this summer to bring more scoring to his club after the loss of Marty Westhaver and Henri Schreifels to college. Luckily the Grizzlies scoring will be helped with the return of star forward Cody Monds, who is committed to Providence College for the 2021-22 season.

You could say there is a small youth movement happening in Victoria with the recent crop of commitments for the Grizz being mostly born in either 2002 or 2003. What makes this group of youngsters different is how good they are already, with many of them being elite scoring star players in their previous leagues.

Even though the production of some of these new players may be different in the BCHL compared to where they played before, there are still major expectations for a few of them to make an impact as well as returning players to put more pucks in the net this coming season.

Last season was a letdown and step back from the year before, but this upcoming season fans should expect an improved team led by Monds. The Grizzlies aren’t just recruiting young guns either, they have acquired veteran players to improve scoring problems and lead the rookies in the right direction.

One of these players is overage forward Thomas Maia, who turns 20 on July 26. Maia was in the NCAA with the Rochester Institute of Technology last season but didn’t play an official game due to a broken fibula suffered at practice. In 2018-19, Maia put up 20 goals and 58 points in 53 games for the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.

Returnees and new guys

The good news this offseason, if you’re a Grizzlies fan, is that many players from last season’s squad are back, and most likely better with a year in the BCHL under their belts. Many of these returning players will be counted on heavily to contribute offensively and provide leadership.

The notable returning players for next year’s team include goaltender Blake Wood as well as Monds, Andrew Amousse, Alex Dipaolo, Connor Eddy, Eddie Yan, and Michael Hoekstra up front, along with defensemen Brady MacDonald, Reid Lindsay, and Isack Bandu.

All of these returning players will be expected to put up more offensively if the Grizzlies want to get back into contender status in the BCHL.

Didmon has been busy this offseason with commitments and signings of some very interesting players. In addition to Maia, some of the notable players the Grizzlies acquired include defenseman Trevor Longo, forwards Colby Joseph, Devon De Vries, and Ellis Rickwood, and goaltender Justin Easter.

The most notable name from that group of players is Longo, who split this past season in the Western Hockey League with Medicine Hat and Vancouver. The 20-year-old will be an overage player and this move appears to be a signal that Longo is BCHL-bound. The Vancouver Giants are well over the allowed number of 20-year-old players and Longo is seemingly one of the odd men out.

Joseph will be counted on next season to contribute offensively as a rookie after an impressive season in Manitoba AAA U18. He put up 36 goals and 71 points in 48 games for the Yellowhead Chiefs, good enough for second in scoring in the league.

Keeping it local

Even though many new players for the Grizzlies come from different parts of North America, they still find a way to bring in local talent for the fans at The Q Centre to cheer on.

In the past, those fan favorites included Marty Westhaver, Nolan De Jong, Cole Pickup, and Shawn McBride. But with the departure of Westhaver next season to Long Island University, who is a potential candidate to be the hometown hero for the Grizzlies going forward?

First up we have returning player Michael Hoekstra. The 17-year-old product of Saanich is entering his second year with the team after putting up a goal and six points in 47 games in 2019-20. After playing more sheltered minutes in his rookie season, Hoekstra should be counted on more to put up points and potentially earn some powerplay time in 2020-21.

Next is Connor Eddy, entering his second year with the Grizz. Eddy should also be expected to put up more numbers after a decent rookie season playing low minutes and almost no special teams minutes. He still managed four goals and a dozen points in 45 games.

Next up is another Saanich kid, Desmond Arthurs. This 17-year-old forward is a very exciting player who posted 10 goals and 32 points in 44 games for the Victoria Cougars of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League last season. This power forward is no stranger to the Grizzlies organization either, playing for the Grizzlies U18 spring league team during the 2018-19 season and suiting up in two games with the BCHL squad last season as an affiliate player.

Last we have defenseman Andrew Braun. He played for Shawnigan Lake School’s midget prep team, putting up two goals and 14 points in 26 games this past season. Braun is also familiar with the Grizzlies, he played in three games as an AP in 2019-20 and scored a goal.

Other trades and next season

Even with this crop of new players, the Grizzlies had to make space on the roster for them by making trades. The Grizz really seem to like dealing with the Dauphin Kings of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, swinging two separate trades with them in the last few weeks.

The first trade between Victoria and Dauphin saw the Grizzlies send Vincent Nardone to the Kings in exchange for future considerations.

The second swap between the two clubs had the Grizz move speedy winger Kahlil Fontana to Dauphin in exchange for future considerations.

Other players who have been dealt include Bryce Anderson to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs for future considerations, Colton Kitchen to the Nanaimo Clippers for futures, Brendan Bowie to Oakville for Maia, and Chace Oliver to the Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League for Hardy Wagner.

With Monds back in Victoria this fall, when you add his scoring ability to the crop of returning players and new faces joining the Grizzlies, they look like a good, young team, and a dark horse to make some noise in the new Coastal Conference of the BCHL for 2020-21.