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Grizzlies forward Alex DiPaolo having breakout BCHL pre-season

Victoria Grizzlies forward Alex DiPaolo in a team practice at The Q Centre on Thursday, ahead of Saturday’s pre-season game at home against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Cleve Dheensaw / Times Colonist
NOVEMBER 8, 2020 04:44 AM

It hasn’t been easy stick-­handling through this ­pandemic hockey season. But Alex DiPaolo is doing just fine. The Victoria Grizzlies forward led the B.C. Hockey League pre-season in scoring heading into Saturday night’s action with 19 points, including seven goals, in 10 games.

It has earned DiPaolo an NCAA Div. 1 athletic scholarship to Colgate University, which he signed last week. It was the plan all along when his family decided Canadian Junior A, followed by the U.S. collegiate NCAA, was a better route for him despite being selected by the major-junior Kingston Frontenacs in the 2016 Ontario Hockey League bantam draft.

“My parents did not want me to go to the OHL,” said DiPaolo.

He is following a family tradition. His uncle, Brick Campbell, played for NCAA Div. III Hamilton College, which is located about 35 kilometres from Colgate in New York state.

“My first goal was to get an education out of hockey,” said the 20-year-old DiPaolo, who will study economics at Colgate.

“Then I have four years to turn it into a pro career. If not, I have my education to fall back on.”

DiPaolo knows he is fortunate, as are all BCHL players, to even be performing and getting noticed. The BCHL is among the few hockey leagues on the continent to be playing through the pandemic.

As such, it is being blanketed by NHL and NCAA scouts. And not always online. There were expected to be five NHL scouts on hand Saturday night when the Grizzlies (7-1-2) met the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (4-5-2) in a pre-season game at the Q Centre in Colwood. (Provincial rules allow for ­gatherings of up to 50 people for games on the Island).

“You look across North America and not a lot of hockey leagues are playing,” DiPaolo said.

“The BCHL has done a good job of getting it started and I’m grateful to have this opportunity to be playing. I am not taking it for granted.”

It has allowed the six-foot-one sophomore Grizzlies forward to show his stuff in a breakout pre-season.

“[DiPaolo] came in so focused and didn’t miss a beat,” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon.

“He is a leader for us.”

Asked for a self-assessment of his game, DiPaolo replied: “I’m not flashy, but I work hard. I’m a pass-first guy always ­looking to make the right play with or without the puck.”

DiPaolo was quick to deflect the glory. “We have a deep team with tons of guys who have made it easy for me,” he said.

“It’s been a collective effort.”

That is reflected in Grizzlies rookie Ellis Rickwood being tied for second in league scoring with 17 points and Victoria sophomore Cody Monds, committed to NCAA Div. 1 Providence College, also in the BCHL top-five with 16 points heading into Saturday.

They are all getting used to this unusual pre-season, ahead of the announced 32-game BCHL regular season from December to March, which will also begin without fans.

“It sucks having no fans because they really make an impact,” DiPaolo said.

“But once the puck drops, as a player you are so focused on the game, that you actually stop noticing whether the arena is packed or if there is nobody there. They are calling these games pre-season, but they have the intensity of playoff games.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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