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Early penalties weigh on Nolan and Victoria Grizzlies

Victoria Grizzlies forward Ryan Nolan.

Brian Drewry / Times Colonist
SEPTEMBER 29, 2018 09:53 PM

Normally, being big, strong and fast is a good thing in hockey, but that’s not the case for Ryan Nolan so far this B.C. Hockey League season.

Nolan is a top-six forward for the Victoria Grizzlies who brings an aggressive forecheck and good set of hands to the Grizzlies’ attack and penalty-killing unit.

But so far, the big winger from just outside Chicago, who’s in his second season with the Grizzlies, has been the focus of BCHL referees who seem to have been given a memo from the league to call a penalty every time Nolan gets close to an opposition player. The 19-year-old has two goals to his credit already, but after a two-minute hit-to-the-head penalty on Friday night against the Powell River Kings, Nolan is now second in the league in penalty minutes with 20, just two minutes back of Cowichan Valley’s Lucas Vanroboys.

“That call [on Friday against Powell River] is typical of how his season has gone so far,” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Criag Didmon, whose club returns to action today at The Q Centre with a 2 p.m. game against the Chilliwack Chiefs.

“The other guy tries to hit him after the whistle and he puts his hands up to protect himself and he gets called and the other guy gets nothing.

“It really seems like [he’s got a target on his back], but he’s a big guy who plays hard and what we’re finding is guys are going down really easy when they’re hit. We teach our guys to play with integrity and you hope the other team does as well, but you didn’t see that [Friday night]. Guys are going down too easy and we’ll be sending in tape to the league on Ryan’s behalf to show just that because it’s pretty obvious in our eyes.

“And Ryan is a clean player who plays physical and is a key part of our team. He’s a top-six guy who you put out there in key situations, and when he’s sitting in the penalty box at key times, that’s tough for us.”

The Grizzlies prevailed 3-2 on Friday, but spent most of the night shorthanded. The Kings had seven man-advantage situations, including more than three minutes of 5-on-3. And even though Powell River only cashed in on one power play, the Grizzlies’ attack kept getting stopped in its tracks with all the whistles.

“It makes it tough, for sure,” said Didmon, whose club had just one power play on Friday.

“But our guys did a good job of weathering the storm and adversity early in the season is sometimes a good thing. We’re a young team and we can use this as a learning experience.”

Nolan, one of the Grizzlies assistant captains, is at a loss for words to describe all the early penalties.

“It’s frustrating, especially when you see the same stuff on the other side not being called,” said the 6-foot-2, 185-pound winger, who after eight games has nearly half as many penalty minutes as he had all of last season.

“We can put up with penalties that are a little soft if they call them both ways, but if they’re only one-sided you start to wonder.

“And being a bigger guy I guess I’m drawing attention, so I’m trying to stay away from the little after-the-whistle stuff, but you still have to play hard, fast hockey so I don’t want to change that part of my game.”

The recent parade to the penalty box does have one bright side:The Grizzlies’ penalty-killing unit is starting to return to last year’s form that saw them finish with the fourth-best penalty-killing unit in the league.

“The kill is about effort and keeping your legs going and our guys are doing a good job of that now,” said Nolan, who along with Cam Thompson, Jordan Guiney and Marty Westhaver, are counted on to kill the bulk of the Grizzlies penalties up front.

The Grizzlies survived against one good team on Friday, but now they’re staring at another top team, with the 7-2 Chiefs coming to town.

“Chilliwack is always tough,” Didmon said. “They have good speed and skilled young guys this year who are playing really well right now. We’ll need to be on top of our game.”

LOOSE PUCKS: After a slow start, Grizzlies captain Alex Newhook has climbed to 11th in league scoring with 10 points, thanks mainly to six points in his last three games and he’s been named the first star in all three of those games. . . . After today’s home game, the Grizzlies head back out on the road next weekend with games in Prince George on Friday, Salmon Arm on Saturday and West Kelowna on Sunday.