Victoria Grizzlies veterans would rather have seen their final junior hockey season extend past the weekend.
The season-ending loss to the Chilliwack Chiefs made for an emotional farewell for many Grizzlies players.
“I’ve grown up playing here. It’s tough. I remember the first time I learned how to skate just up the hill there (at Juan de Fuca Arena) … it’s a tough night for sure,” said Cole Pickup, who wound up his fourth full year with the club as their leading scorer.
He’ll head south to the University of Nebraska-Omaha to play college hockey this fall, but not before donning the green and white jersey of the Victoria Shamrocks junior lacrosse team for one last season. Showing his versatility, he led that outfit in scoring last season as well.
Grizzlies captain Cody Van Lierop, an Ontario native who toiled three seasons on the blueline in Colwood, echoed Pickup’s difficulty with winding things up as a Grizzly.
“It’s tough to finish the career here. There’s nothing but good things I can say about this place,” said Van Lierop, who as yet doesn’t have a scholarship deal nailed down. “It’s been my home for the past three years. It’s tough to say goodbye.”
In total, six Grizzlies players age out of junior this season, the others being local players Nick Guiney and Nathan Looysen, as well as defencemen Jake Stevens and Brett Stirling. Forward Tyler Welsh and goaltender Matthew Galajda will leave the team before their junior eligibility expires to play in college this fall.
Those signficiant losses notwithstanding, head coach and general manager Craig Didmon believes the Grizzlies should have a large group of returning players who will take their turn in the spotlight on next year’s team.
“We’ve got lots of guys coming back and we want to continue to push to try and get to that league final and get that league championship,” he said.
Didmon said he expects to have four returning defenceman, which includes Victoria native Drayson Pears and Nico Somerville, an 18-year-old from Port Alberni.
Dayne Finnson, who played key minutes for the Grizzlies all season, will also be eligible to return.
Highly touted recruit Jacson Alexander is due to make his B.C. Hockey League debut for the club. A smooth skating offensive defenceman, the Victoria native was chosen by the Swift Current Broncos in the first round of the 2016 WHL Bantam draft but opted to play for the Grizzlies in order to preserve is NCAA eligibility. He has already committed to play for the University of Denver beginning with the 2019-20 season.
Up front, the Grizzlies should have the services of key contributors Keyvan Mokthari, Justin Michaelian, Timothy Friednmann, Marty Westhaver and Nolan Welsh, Tyler’s younger brother.
Jordan Guiney, Nick’s younger brother, produced 32 points in 44 games with the Westshore Wolves and played six games with the Grizzlies this season could also be a name to watch.
In goal, Tony Rehm looks like Galajda’s heir apparent. In 17 regular season games Rehm posted a sparkling 2.19 goals against average and a .932 save percentage.
“The recruiting we’ve done, there’s some real skill players and guys that play with integrity and play hard,” Didmon said. “We’re very proud of that. We bring in kids in this community that are role models.”