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Grizzlies, other Island teams stay safe so far in sports re-start

Victoria Grizzlies general manager and head coach Craig Didmon says play among BCHL teams “has been as physical as in previous seasons.” TIMES COLONIST

Cleve Dheensaw / Times Colonist
OCTOBER 9, 2020 06:30 AM

It is so far so good for Island sports teams that have returned to play.

There were no COVID-19 cases reported in the recently completed Canadian Premier League pro soccer season, which included Pacific FC, and was played amid a bubble in Charlottetown, P.E.I. The Vancouver Island Soccer League recently held its 2019-20 Cup finals and began its 2020-21 season last week.

And while turmoil surrounds the rest of junior hockey in Canada, the B.C. Hockey League has reported no ill-effects heading into the second weekend tonight, Saturday and Sunday of its extended pre-season, which includes the Island Cup tournament.

The Blainville-Broisbriand Armada and Sherbrooke Phoenix of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League —which has begun the regular season — have suspended operations indefinitely because 18 and eight members, respectively, of the Armada and Phoenix tested positive for COVID and are in 14-day quarantines.

Meanwhile, Ontario sports minister Lisa MacLeod said the Ontario Hockey League will have to remove physical contact, including body checking, in order for the season to begin.

“The play in our league has been as physical as in previous seasons,” said Victoria Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon, about the issue.

“It’s been regular, physical hockey.”

The Grizzlies and Nanaimo Clippers meet for the sixth consecutive game time tonight at Cliff McNabb Arena in the Harbour City and Saturday at the Q Centre in the Island Cup pre-season tournament. No fans are allowed. The first two encounters were pre-tournament exhibitions, but just as full-out as the Island Cup games have been. The players are body checking as hard as they ever have, said Didmon.

Precautions, however, are being taken.

“The players are required to wear the new Bauer full-face shields with spit guards. It’s regular hockey but with more coverage on the body,” said Didmon.

“And players are being separated right away [by the linesmen] after entanglements and after whistles. The after-whistle [pushing and shoving] has been stopped. We’ve had no issues so far.”

A second fight by a player in the BCHL will trigger a one-game suspension. The Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, which has begun its regular season, goes even farther. A player’s first fight will results in a five-game suspension, a second fight a 10-game suspension and a third fight a season suspension. The move is to protect players and linesmen,

All B.C. leagues are also playing strictly streamlined schedules. That’s because the provincial Phase 3 of the return to sports allows for team-versus-team play on a regional basis in cohorts of up to four teams. Two-week quarantine breaks are required before the teams can rotate into new cohorts of up to four teams.

“There’s not been any outbreaks I’m aware of related to sports or sports events or sports groups,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, during her media conference Thursday.

“As we know, there’s some detailed safety plans put in, and sports have been modified so they can be done safely,” added Henry, in response to a question aimed also at youth and recreational sports.

“It’s working well so far and we need to keep that up.”

The Grizzlies, meanwhile, split their BCHL Island Cup openers last weekend with a 7-3 win in Nanaimo followed by a 5-2 loss at the Q Centre.

Defending Grizzlies team scoring champion and NCAA Providence College-committed Cody Monds has two goals and four points and veteran Alex DiPaolo a goal and four points. Sean Donaldson leads the Clippers with a goals and four points.

ICE CHIPS: Three BCHL players were selected this week in the 2020 NHL draft. Matteo Costantini of the Penticton Vees went 131st overall in the fifth round to the Buffalos Sabres and Chilliwack Chiefs Kienan Draper and Ethan Bowen both in the seventh round to the Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks, respectively. Nanaimo captain Kyler Kovich, committed to Cornell of the NCAA, was the 168th-ranked North American skater for the draft but was not selected.

That’s a far cry from last year’s heady draft for the BCHL when Alex Newhook of Victoria went 16th overall in the first round to the Colorado Avalanche and fellow Grizzlies players Alex Campbell 65th in the third round to the Nashville Predators and Carter Berger 106th in the fourth round to the Florida Panthers.

Layton Ahac of the Prince George Spruce Kings was also a third-rounder among the eight BCHL players selected in 2019. But the gold-standard was when three BCHL players – Tyson Jost, Dante Fabbro and Dennis Cholowski – were selected in the first round in 2016.

“It can be cyclical. There’s a good crop of players for next year,” said Didmon.

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