Departing Grizzlies star Alex Newhook is pursued by the Cowichan Capitals’ Preston Brodziak in a game at The Q Centre back in January.
Photograph By DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST
Cleve Dheensaw / Times Colonist
APRIL 3, 2019 08:54 PM
The Victoria Grizzlies, many in tears, hugged and huddled on the ice late Tuesday night long after the Prince George Spruce Kings and most of the fans had departed. More than an hour after the game, several of the players were still taking sentimental last skates around The Q Centre.
The deep and talented Spruce Kings scored in overtime for the 3-2 victory and a 4-0 sweep of the best-of-seven B.C. Hockey League Coastal Conference final series. Prince George advances to the league final for the second consecutive year in a quest for the franchise’s elusive first BCHL championship.
The result ended the two-season Alex Newhook era in Victoria. The Grizzlies captain, projected for the first round of the 2019 NHL draft, is headed next season to Boston College of the NCAA. No matter what the future holds for him, Newhook goes into the books alongside current NHLers Jamie and Jordie Benn and Tyler Bozak as an all-time Grizzlies great.
“It’s been an unbelievable and exceptional two years for me and there are no words to describe it,” said BCHL regular-season scoring-champion Newhook, who scored both Grizzlies goals Tuesday. He leads the league in playoff scoring with 11 goals and 24 points in 15 games.
The native of St. John’s, N.L., came coast-to-coast from one rock to the other and doesn’t regret one moment of it.
“The decision I made to come to Victoria was the way to go,” Newhook said.
“I grew up here as a person and a player.”
Craig Didmon, Grizzlies head coach and GM, reflected on the Newhook era.
“It was an incredible experience for everybody,” Didmon said.
“Alex showed how good he can be. He’s good for a reason. He pays the price and earned the respect of everybody on this team and everybody in this league. Not only for the way he presented himself on the ice, but also for the way he presented himself in the community. He showed incredible maturity and never put himself ahead of the team.”
The journey ended sooner than Newhook and his Grizzlies teammates would have wanted.
“This is the closest-knit team I have been on. We lifted each other up,” said the crafty and quick centre, who is tabbed to go mid-first round in the NHL draft in June. As fate would have it, that will take place just across the strait at Rogers Arena.
“This is not the way we wanted it to end,” Newhook said. “Our goal was the championship, but we’ve been through a lot together and there are a lot of positives to take away from all those experiences.”
The last time the Grizzlies franchise won the BCHL championship was in 2001, when the team was known as the Salsa. With Newhook and three other Grizzlies ranked for the 2019 NHL draft — forward Alex Campbell and defencemen Carter Berger and Jeremie Bucheler, along with 2018 New York Rangers draft pick Riley Hughes — the franchise might not get another chance like this again soon.
“This is a tough, bitter feeling, but we accomplished much,” Didmon said.
“These kids were hard working and committed and great to coach. I am going to miss this group. There were so many special things about it. It hurts right now but we will look back on it with perspective.”
The 20-year-olds graduating from the Grizzlies are forward Ryan Nolan, Cam Thompson, defencemen Cole Noble and Kenny Johnson and goaltender Kurtis Chapman.
“We bonded together and it was an amazing experience to play with these guys, and it’s a last year of junior that I will always remember,” said Chapman, who provided solid crease play this season for Victoria.
“It’s hard to believe junior hockey is over. There were so many memories.”
While Americans Nolan and Johnson are headed to the NCAA at Merrimack and Penn State, respectively, former WHLer Chapman said he is considering minor-pro or Canadian university options.
Newhook is among up to five departing Grizzlies who won’t age out of junior, but who are heading to the NCAA next season.
That leaves more than half the roster returning.
“This is a great organization. We’ll take another run at it next year,” Didmon said.
© 2019 Copyright Times Colonist