The Victoria Grizzlies have yet to lose, but they’re fully aware their pre-season achievements won’t mean anything when the puck drops on the regular season tonight (Sept. 9) against the Powell River Kings.
“We’re still in last place alphabetically,” joked Grizzlies head coach Craig Didmon.
He did note that the excellent pre-season was a welcome change from last year, when the club stumbled to a 1-5 record, struggles which carried over into the regular season. “It certainly gives us an indication that our feet are a little more secure entering the season,” he said.
Newly minted captain Cody Van Lierop agreed with his coach’s sentiments, noting that teams don’t usually play their full lineups during the exhibition season and that the Grizzlies will need to be ready for a strong Powell River team in the opener.
Van Lierop was one of two obvious candidates for the captaincy, along with veteran forward Cole Pickup.
“It was a tough one, because they’re both really captains in the room and on the ice as well,” Didmon said. Didmon and his coaching staff chose to go with Van Lierop for his ability to “keep an even keel” and not “get too high or too low.”
The 20-year-old defenceman, entering his third season with the club, expects to lead by example. He learned it’s a captain’s job “not to get too emotional” from watching the Grizzlies’ previous leaders, Dane Gibson and P.J. Conlon.
Pickup and Tyler Welsh will be full-time alternate captains while defencemen Jake Stevens and Bret Stirling will share the third ‘A.’
The strength of the Grizzlies appears to lie in their own zone, with Van Lierop at the heart of a defence core that returns four players from a year ago. Goaltender Matthew Galajda, who recently committed to play college hockey at Cornell University next season, should be among the leaders in the BCHL once again this year.
Up front, the bulk of the Grizzlies’ scoring hopes will rest on the shoulders of Pickup and his linemates Nathan Looysen and Tyler Welsh.
“I’m excited for Pickup’s line … they looked great in pre-season,” Didmon said. “They can all shoot the puck, they’re all good playmakers and they’re all physical and win battles.”
Lucas Clark will centre Keyvan Mokhtari and Jamie Rome on a line that promises to have a good combination of power and speed, while Sage Englund will be in the middle of a line that includes Nick Guiney and Justin Michaelian, that trio having showed a lot of chemistry according to Didmon.
In a stark contrast to last season, where the Grizzlies had to wait for the Victoria Shamrocks to play out the Mann Cup before settling into their home at The Q Centre, Victoria will open with four of its first five games on home ice.
Didmon prefers this home-heavy schedule to last year’s scenario, which saw the club play its entire first month of games on the road.
“Let’s get good in our barn now … let’s get to know this place and be a very good team at home,” he said.
The puck will drop on the Grizzlies’ 2016-17 campaign at 7 p.m. against the Kings. They’ll take on the Alberni Valley Bulldogs tomorrow night at The Q Centre at the same start time, before travelling to Duncan on Tuesday for a date with the Cowichan Valley Capitals. For more information about the team, visit victoriagrizzlies.com.