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Chase McInnis takes long route from U.S. to Victoria Grizzlies

Grizzlies sophomore forward Chase McInnis aims to improve upon his 19 points from a season ago. (ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST)

Cleve Dheensaw / Times Colonist
OCTOBER 2, 2020 06:00 AM

As an American, forward Chase McInnis of the Victoria Grizzlies took one of the trickiest pandemic routes to the B.C. Hockey League pre-season Island Cup, which begins tonight. But it wasn’t as fraught as he thought it might have been.

“It was stressful in the period waiting to leave. But the airports and planes turned out to be less crowded, and I had two seats to myself for all three flights, so it was quite nice to be honest,” said the Massachusetts native.

That was followed, on arrival to the Island, by a two-week quarantine in a basement suite. It was made easier by having a backyard, and fellow-American Grizzlies player Nicholas O’Hanisain of Troy, Michigan, with him.

“It was nice to hang around with Nicholas because we could both relate,” said McInnis.

It’s all part of cross-border travel in the time of COVID. Now safely arrived and the quarantine requirement fulfilled, McInnis is set for the start of the Island Cup, with the Grizzlies taking on the Clippers in Nanaimo tonight and at the Q Centre on Saturday. No fans are allowed.

McInnis is the five-foot-10, 175-pound son of U.S. Olympian and 12-season NHLer Marty McInnis. The younger McInnis is committed to NCAA Div. 1 Northeastern, and appears poised for a big sophomore season with the Grizzlies.

“I hope to score a lot of goals this year, but I like to play all aspects of the game,” said McInnis, who had eight goals and 19 points in 57 games last season as a rookie. Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon said that’s what he likes best about McInnis’ play.

“Chase is smart and plays well in different situations,” said Didmon.

“I can put him at centre, or any wing, and also on the power play and penalty kill. He is interchangeable.”

Those were skills learned from his father, who coached him up to the age of 14.

“My dad was a big influence in my life and in my game,” said the younger McInnis.

“He is someone I can relate to.”

Marty McInnis came out of Boston College to play on the U.S. team at the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics. While future NHLer and Victoria Sports Hall of Fame member Kent Manderville helped lead Canada to the silver medal, the American team of McInnis, Keith Tkachuk, Bret Hedican, Ted Drury, Scott Lachance, Moe Mantha and Mike Dunham placed fourth in Albertville following a loss to Czechoslovakia in the bronze-medal game. The elder McInnis also played in two IIHF world championships, winning bronze in 1996. Drafted in the eighth round by the New York Islanders in 1988, McInnis scored 170 goals with 420 points in 796 NHL games with the Islanders, Calgary Flames, Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Boston Bruins.

Despite the distance between Victoria and Boston, father and son keep in close contact during hockey season, with handy hints given by dad. Yet when it came time to choose a school to play at, Chase McInnis selected cross-town rival Northeastern over Boston College, the latter where his dad has been assistant coach for eight seasons, and where fellow hockey-playing brother Luke McInnis graduated from in the spring.

“I grew up cheering for Boston College, but I made the best decision for myself,” said Chase McInnis.

“Northeastern was one of the first schools to show interest in me [when he starred at Southfield Academy in Brookline, Massachusetts] and it just felt like a good fit.”

Chase is the first to admit those cross-town games against Boston College, and his dad, will be filled with roiling emotions. But that starts next September in what is hoped to be a more normal time. First up will be the most unusual season in BCHL history.

“I was going a bit crazy back at home, with no hockey over the summer,” said Chase McInnis, who also played field lacrosse growing up.

“My brother and I did weights and modified dryland training at a high tempo and managed to put a toll on our bodies to be ready for when hockey started up again. I let out a sigh of relief when I got to Victoria because I knew hockey would be back soon.”

The Island Cup runs to Nov. 28 with the Grizzlies, Clippers, Cowichan Valley Capitals and Alberni Valley Bulldogs in a cohort. The Grizzlies, Bulldogs and Clippers will later hive off into a three-team cohort and Capitals and Powell River Kings into a two-team cohort. The teams will play 14 games each, not including the “playoff” semifinals and final for the Island Cup.

The provincial Phase 3 of the return to sports allows for team-versus-team league or exhibition play on a regional basis in cohorts of up to four teams. Quarantine breaks are required before the teams can rotate into new cohorts of up to four teams.

There are also similar BCHL pre-season tournaments for Lower Mainland and Interior teams. The BCHL regular season is tentatively set to begin Dec. 1, also in a cohort format.

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