Victoria Grizzlies players got a good chance to show off their special teams abilities to the multitude of college and pro scouts on hand for the B.C. Hockey League Bauer Showcase in Chilliwack.
The Island squad went to double overtime in both of their games at Prospera Centre, dropping a 5-4 decision to the Trail Smokeaters in a rare morning contest today (Sept. 25) after skating to a 3-3 tie with the Langley Rivermen the day before.
While taking a point in both games was important for the team in its efforts to maintain the lead in the Island Division standings, Grizzlies head coach Craig Didmon was most excited about the interest shown in his players.
“I think we had 17 teams that talked to us,” he said, adding that 10 players on the team chatted with at least one scout. “We’re a hockey club that has a lot of guys on the cusp of getting scholarships.”
One of those players is Cole Pickup, a fourth-year, 20-year-old Grizzlies forward who broke out with 48 points last year and leads the team with five goals and 12 points in seven games this season.
“(He) got some offers from teams; he’ll find his way into the NCAA for sure … We’re very happy for Cole,” Didmon said.
While the club has a lengthy history of sending players on to the college and pro ranks, more recently that has not been the case, he noted.
“Because we’re sitting at the top of the league and we have only one guy committed (goaltender Michael Galajda to Cornell), we’re a sought-after hockey team. “Our guys have earned 10 scholarships in the last three season, but we had one last year so we’re really due.”
Grizzlies forward Tyler Welsh, 19, who scored 40 points as a rookie last year, travelled to Yale for a recruiting visit last week, and more players are expected to jump on a plane in the coming weeks.
Before the games began, Didmon said, it was important he and his coaching staff “point the elephant out in the room right away” regarding the scouting interest at the rink.
“This is probably the most exposure they’ll ever get in terms of NCAA teams and NHL teams,” he said. “They’ve got to play hockey and do the things that help their team be successful (to get noticed).”
Grizzlies dominate but emerge with a single point
The team played well enough to win handily on Saturday against Langley, Didmon said, but ran into a hot goaltender in Nickolas Trencianksy, who stopped 37 of 40 Victoria shots.
The Grizzlies jumped out to an early 2-0 lead before the game was four minutes old. Nathan Looysen scored his first of two goals in the period, then Cameron Thompson turned a steal into an unassisted marker 15 seconds later. The Rivermen’s Max Kaufman sandwiched goals around Looysen’s second to make it 3-2 after one period.
The teams were scoreless in the second, but Langley’s Zachary Bleuler tied it up early in the third. Victoria dominated the last two periods, outshooting Langley 25-14, and 4-0 in the first five-minute overtime.
Galajda stopped 24 shots for the win in the Grizzlies net, while Pickup had two assists.
In a scheduling scenario most of the Grizzlies hadn’t experienced since their minor hockey tournament days, the Trail game got underway at 10 a.m. Sunday.
Tyson Slater’s goal 2:24 into the second overtime period was the winner for the Smokeaters, who trailed or were tied with the Grizzlies until late in the third period.
Victoria’s Tyler Welsh had knotted the game 4-4 with 26 seconds to go in regulation, finishing off a passing play from Cole Pickup and Cody van Lierop with goalie Mitchel Benson pulled for an extra attacker.
But the Smokeaters gained most of the scoring chances in overtime, outshooting the Grizzlies 5-0 in the four-on-four period and 2-1 in three-on-three.
“We were kind of out of our routine and mentally we were a little off,” Didmon said. “But when you look at it, we’ve got points in six out of our seven games this season so we can’t complain.”
Trail outshot Victoria 42-25 overall, but the Grizzlies held period leads of 1-0 and 3-2. Victoria goals came from Jake Stevens and Cory Hatcher scoring on the power play and Jamie Rome scoring a shorthanded goal midway through the second to make it 3-2 Grizzlies.
But the Smokeaters came back in the third with goals from Ross Armour and an unassisted marker from Luke Santerno at the 15:04 mark that gave Trail their first lead of the game.
Van Lierop had three assists and was named the game second star.
The Grizzlies are back in action in Port Alberni on Wednesday (Sept. 28) against the divisional rival Bulldogs, then host Coquitlam at The Q Centre at 7 p.m. Friday. They jump on an early ferry Saturday for a game in Powell River then play five of their next six at home.