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Carter Berger has Victoria Grizzlies in high gear

North Vancouver native Carter Berger leads all BCHL defencemen in goals with 22.
Photograph By DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Cleve Dheensaw / Times Colonist
JANUARY 7, 2019 09:54 PM

National Hockey League scouts have been beating a steady path to The Q Centre this season because of 2019 draft-projected Victoria Grizzlies forwards Alex Campbell and B.C. Hockey League leading-scorer Alex Newhook, the latter projected for the first round.

But Grizzlies defenceman Carter Berger has had those scouts craning their necks toward the Grizzlies’ defensive zone, too. And also the offensive zone. Berger can be found in both with regularity as he leads all BCHL blue-liners with 22 goals and has six goals in the past three games — including two in Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Prince George Spruce Kings — and on Monday was named BCHL player of the week for his efforts.

The all-time league record for goals by a blue-liner is the 38 scored by former Victoria Salsa head coach Campbell Blair in 1986-87 with the Vernon Lakers. Berger has 21 games remaining to score 16 goals to tie the record, which might be a stretch. But that he is even within hailing distance says a lot about Berger’s season, especially since he missed most of December from club play because he was with Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge in Bonnyville, Alta.

One of his goals Sunday was in spectacular fashion by kicking the puck up to his stick from between his legs, in the Grizzlies’ victory over the then league-leading Spruce Kings at The Q Centre.

“If you take care of the defensive zone first, the offence comes easier for you,” said Berger.

“I’ve played with an offensive edge to my game my whole career and jump up if I see an opening. I’m on a team that encourages defencemen to contribute [offensively].”

Which is exactly what Berger, and Grizzlies blue-line teammate Jeremie Bucheler, have done this season. They are second and third in BCHL points for defencemen with Berger on 43 and Bucheler 36. What’s impressive about that is that both missed four games in December because they were away, with Grizzlies forwards Newhook, Campbell and New York Rangers draft pick Riley Hughes representing bronze-medallist Canada West at the 2018 World Junior A Challenge.

“We’ve played well since we got back from the World Junior A Challenge and everything is clicking,” said Berger, a native of North Vancouver.

Berger, headed next season to play in the NCAA at UConn, is 19 and in his second season of eligibility for the NHL draft. He was undrafted in his first go-round in 2018 but did receive a free-agent invite to the Anaheim Ducks’ summer rookies and prospects camp. It is expected a few more NHL clubs will consider Berger in this year’s draft.

Meanwhile, Newhook had a goal and an assist Sunday, Bucheler two assists and Hughes one assist as Victoria (25-12-2) defeated Prince George (25-11-4). Kurtis Chapman was outstanding in recording the 41-save shutout.

The Grizzlies embark on a road trip beginning Friday in Langley against the Rivermen and continuing Saturday in Wenatchee, Washington, against the Wild and Sunday in Trail against the Smoke Eaters.

ICE CHIPS: The Grizzlies added a forward Monday, signing St. John’s, N.L., product Kyle McGrath. The 19-year-old McGrath played 33 games last season for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, scoring four goals and adding two assists. McGrath was playing Junior B this season in St. John’s, where he had 14 goals and nine assists in 13 games. McGrath is expected to be in the Grizzlies’ lineup Friday in Langley.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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