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Alex Newhook ready to take next step with Victoria Grizzlies

MARIO ANNICCHIARICO / TIMES COLONIST
Photograph By ADRIAN LAM, Times Colonist
SEPTEMBER 7, 2017 10:11 PM

One fact is abundantly clear, Alex Newhook is destined to be a solid pro hockey player, with scouts declaring the sky is the limit for the 16-year-old native of St. John’s, N.L.

The well spoken teenager, who appears to be just as smooth with a quote as he is on the ice, has made his way across the country to join the Victoria Grizzlies for the 2017-18 B.C. Hockey League season, along with fellow 16-year-old Jacson Alexander.

Despite their youth, both are expected to play big roles, following in the footsteps of Nolan De Jong and Braxton Bilous as the most recent 16-year-olds who made an impression with the local Junior A club.

Fans tend to forget that Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn was 17 when he donned the Grizzlies uniform (after playing just six games as a 16-year-old with the Victoria Salsa) and Tyson Barrie played just a handful of games as a 15-year-old. Both then jumped to the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League.

Newhook will get his first regular-season taste of the BCHL tonight when the Grizzlies take on the host Powell River Kings at 7:15 at Hap Parker Arena, a tough initiation for any BCHLer. The two teams follow it up with a tilt on Saturday at 5 p.m.

“He’s going to have a lot of things in front of him this year, like the CJHL Showcase and the U-17 tournament. He’s juggling a lot of balls and I think the biggest thing is to eliminate distractions in front of him,” said Grizzlies general manager and head coach Craig Didmon.

“He’s going to have to adjust to playing with older players and at higher speeds. He’s done well through exhibition. He’s contributed offensively. He’s going to have to learn a little bit more of the 200-foot game and the highs and lows of junior hockey and what comes with wins and losses.”

And for that reason, Didmon is not openly discussing any established goals for the young, five-foot-11, 187-pound forward.

“I don’t want to put that burden on him. It’s hard in this league, but I do see him as a top-six forward,” offered Didmon.

Newhook, himself, isn’t shying away from projections and willing to tackle any challenges thrown his way.

“I have expectations for myself and the team. Obviously, we want to win the Island Division first of all and then win the league. For myself, I want to get my game going, get used to the league and pace of play, but I want to put up some points,” he said without hesitation.

“My goal is to get around 50 points and I think I have what it takes to do it,” he added. “There’s definitely a bit of pressure as a 16-year-old, but I’ve had that most of my life, playing wherever I go. I know [the pressure is] there, but I don’t worry about it too much and just play my game.”

He played it well last season , recording 43 goals and 31 assists in 33 games with the York Simcoe Express Midget triple-A team in Ontario. He has played away from home the last two years, so he’s used to the scenario.

Already committed to Boston College in the NCAA, Newhook was touted as a top-five pick for this past season’s Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft. He was eventually taken 41st by the Halifax Mooseheads only because of his decision to take the college route.

Early projections also have him as a possible first-round selection in the 2019 National Hockey League draft.

“He’s a playmaker and a shooter at the same time. His vision is good and he’s a great skater. He has all the parts, we just have to make sure he remains passionate about the game,” said Didmon, who will not hesitate to use Newhook in power play and short-handed situations. “He slows the game down, sees the openings and the lanes.”

One factor is certain, Newhook looks forward to the opportunity.

“It’s something I’m excited for, playing against older guys,” he said. “It’s something I’m going to have to get used to anyways and I’m just happy that it’s going to be here in Victoria. The preseason went well. I thought I got my game going as we went along.

“The location is great. The whole staff is great and having Jacson here is a positive. We can feed off each other, which is good.”

The two took part in the Canadian U-17 summer ID camp last month in Calgary and the pair also attend Belmont Secondary together in the mornings and Newhook also has an aunt, Kelly Newhook, living in Victoria.

“It’s one year at a time for those guys. I would never take an opportunity away from them. I feel fortunate to get to coach both and we just want to help them both along,” Didmon said of Newhook and Alexander.

The only drawback for Newhook is his family is clear across the country.

“It’s a fair way away, but for me, it’s wherever I can get the best hockey, the best path to NCAA and hopefully pros. That’s what it was,” he said of his move West. “I was away for two years and this is just another step further.”

The time difference is an issue, though, at 4 hours.

“Dad [Shawn] tries to stay up as late as he can, maybe watching a period or two and maybe watching the rest the next day. It’s not too bad,” said Newhook, whose mom Paula is also a big supporter. His sister Abby, 14, also committed to Boston College just last week, so the talent runs in the family.

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