The number of past, present and future Victoria Grizzlies selected by National Hockey League teams speaks volumes about the organization’s commitment to building better players on and off the ice, says team president Lance Black.
“We’re more than a hockey team because we emphasize getting kids involved in the community and improving them on and off the ice,” said Black, Victoria Grizzlies president for the past five years.
Everyone from Craig Didmon and his coaching staff to the team’s trainers, skating instructor, sports psychologist, billet manager and support staff plays an integral role in player development and are totally devoted to working with kids, Black explained. “Dave Warbach, our strength and conditioning coach formerly worked with the Minnesota Vikings. He is a zen master. It’s unbelievable how kids are so in tune with him.”
Black said he’s “truly humbled” by having three current Grizzlies and another player set to join the team this season selected in the National Hockey League draft, which took place June 21 and 22 in Vancouver.
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Team captain Alex Newhook was taken sixteenth overall in the first round by the Colorado Avalanche. The 18-year-old Newfoundland native leads by example and has all the skill sets of an NHL player, Black noted. “He’s more than a hockey player. I think Colorado GM Joe Sakic sees a lot of himself in Alex. I think it’s going to be a great marriage.”
Newhook may well have won the British Columbia Junor Hockey league scoring title as a 16-year-old if his season hadn’t been hampered by injury. Someone that young hasn’t achieved that since Paul Kariya did it 25 years ago, Black added.
“He sees the ice very well and can stickhandle in a phone booth,” Black said regarding Chateaugay, Quebec native Alexander Campbell, taken 65th in the third round by the Nashville Predators. “He ran away with the scoring title and the next closest player was 18 points behind.”
North Vancouverite Carter Berger, taken 106th by the Florida Panthers, has taken massive strides since he entered the league in 2016. “He might be the most underrated player in the draft,” Black said. “He’s the best skater I’ve seen in the BCJHL in years. The Panthers will be over the moon.”
Although Black hasn’t had the opportunity to see Montreal Canadiens draft pick Jayden Struble play, he was impressed by the fact the Cumberland, Rhode Island native slated to play for the Grizzlies this year finished first in five of 16 tests at the NHL combine. “He’s a monster and is going to be a real asset to our team.”
For more on the team and NHL draft choices, skate over to victoriagrizzlies.com