The Victoria Grizzlies are looking forward to their home opener this Saturday, taking on the Canadian Junior Hockey League No. 1 ranked Penticton Vees.
Grizzlies’ head coach Craig Didmon is excited to see how the teams will measure up. “I think they’re a really good hockey club,” Didmon said. “We have young talent, hopefully by the end of the year the rankings will show we will be one of the top teams in the country.”
He said the game Saturday will be a battle of two deep teams and all of Victoria’s lines need to play hard and beat the matches to win.
Captain Alex Newhook hopes to continue the success at home against the Vees, last season the Grizzlies beat Penticton 6-3 at The Q Centre. “It’s a date that’s been marked since the schedule came out that everybody’s been looking forward to,” he said.
Victoria lost its first game of the season 5-3 to the Powell River Kings, the same team that knocked the Grizzlies out of the playoffs at the end of last season, but Didmon said he’s content with his final roster and their progress.
“I’m happy with the level of the play and the level they’ve adapted to, the young guys have showed that they are ready to be regular-time players, the lineup is strong top to bottom,” he said.
Grizzlies scored two goals in the first period, one from Marty Westhaver to get Victoria on the board and one from Riley Hughes on the power play, putting them up 2-0 after the first.
Victoria’s Ryan Nolan scored another goal to start the second, and the Grizzlies held the lead until the last seven minutes of the game.
Newhook said Victoria’s hot start proves they are a fast and very skilled team, unique to other teams in the league.
“We lost sharpness and consistency in some areas, and we need to be better defensively, so if we clean that up we’ll be that much better,” he said. As for his new linemate, Hughes, Newhook thinks they compliment each other well, noting picking up a goal against the Kings was a great start to the season for Hughes.
Didmon said his team had a lot of well executed chances against the Kings, but the puck didn’t bounce their way.
Back in net for Victoria, Kurtis Chapman saved 32 of 36 shots and Didmon said he didn’t take the loss easy and is continuing to work on his timing to be able to dominate like he did during playoffs at the end of last season.
The Vees are the only team in the British Columbia Hockey League to crack the top 10 in the pre-season rankings, with the Grizzlies coming in at the 11th spot.
Up next for Victoria is Alberni Valley at Weyerhaeuser Arena Friday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m.
The Grizzlies home opener takes place at The Q Centre Saturday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. Jamie and Jordie Benn’s jerseys retirement ceremony will take place that night and Gord Phillips Band will perform live before the game and during intermissions.