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Grizzlies smothering BCHL opposition

Grizzlies netminder Kurtis Chapman leads the BCHL with a 1.85 GAA.

Brian Drewry / Times Colonist
OCTOBER 5, 2018 12:05 AM

They’ve always had the big guns up front, like New York Rangers draft pick Riley Hughes and projected 2019 NHL draft picks Alex Newhook and Alex Campbell, but the Victoria Grizzlies are showing they can be a shut-down team as well.

The Grizzlies have allowed 21 goals in nine games, which is second only to the Prince George Spruce Kings’ 20 (Powell River has allowed 20 goals as well but has played one fewer game).

And any good defensive team will tell you, it takes more than a great goaltender to keep the other team from scoring, although Grizzlies veteran netminder Kurtis Chapman has been lights-out, leading the B.C. Hockey League in goals-against average at 1.85 and save percentage with .949.

“We’ve been working a lot lately on our defensive-zone game and the system we want to play in our own end and the guys are really doing a good job of developing good habits in our own end,” said the 20-year-old Chapman, who has played all but one period for the 6-3 Grizzlies this season.

“We know we have a very good offence but we also know that you need to play good defence, too, if you want to win games.”

Chapman, who has Western Hockey League experience with Regina and Kootenay, is second in the league in minutes played with 518.

“I don’t mind playing a lot,” said the Airdrie, Alta., product. “You start to get in a groove and you’re good play becomes habit so I’m comfortable with it and it’s been a lot of fun so far.”

Chapman has played back-to-back nights a few times this year, but with the Grizzlies playing three games in three days this weekend, beginning tonight in Prince George, the veteran will likely get spelled off by rookie backup Keenan Rancier at least for one game.

“We have a lot of good forwards on this team who understand that winning hockey games means playing well at both ends of rink,” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon, whose club takes a four-game winning streak into tonight’s matchup with the Spruce Kings (6-2-0-1).

“But Kurtis has been there when needed and he’s a veteran that brings a confidence and calmness to the backend and that moves down the lineup with the defence and the forwards.”

While Carter Berger, Cole Noble and Nico Somerville provide a veteran presence on the Grizzlies’ blue line, there are some new faces who have stepped up and fit right in. Jeremie Bucheler is a newcomer from Quebec who is committed to Northeastern of the NCAA for next season, and Brady MacDonald brings a year of junior in Ontario that has helped make life a little easier for Chapman.

“It’s a fast league here so we’ve been doing a good job of keeping it simple in our own end and getting the puck to the forwards as quick as possible because obviously we have a great group of forwards so the more they have the puck the better,” said 18-year-old MacDonald, who hails from Dorchester, Ont., and spent last season with the Strathroy Rockets of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.

“And I think we also do a good job of rushing the puck and keeping up with the forwards and that also helps keep the puck out of our zone which is what you want.”

Tonight, the Grizzlies are facing a team very much like themselves. Heading into Thursday night’s action, Spruce Kings veteran Ben Brar leads the league in goals with seven, but when needed, 19-year-old netminder Logan Neaton has been there and posts a 5-0 record and 1.95 GAA.

“They’re quick, they’re physical and they play similar style to us,” said Didmon.

“But we’ll also be playing in a real small rink that’s different than we’re used to so I expect a physical battle, but I expect us to come out and play hard because it certainly won’t be easy.”

Following the game in Prince George, the Grizzlies will head south to Salmon Arm for a Saturday night contest with the Silverbacks, before facing the Warriors in West Kelowna on Sunday afternoon.

LOOSE PUCKS: The Grizzlies’ next home game is Oct. 12 when they play the first of a home-and-home set with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. Victoria visits Alberni on Oct. 13. . . . Grizzlies captain Newhook is 10th in league scoring with 12 points in nine games. Twenty-year-old Ty Westgard of the Surrey Eagles leads the BCHL in scoring with 16 points in 10 games.