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It’s playoffs in November for BCHL’s Island Division

Eddie Yan and the Grizzlies face the Nanaimo Clippers on Tuesday in the Island Cup final.

Cleve Dheensaw / Times Colonist
NOVEMBER 16, 2020 10:19 PM

Darren Naylor nailed it when discussing the most unusual year in sports history.

“Nobody ever thought they would see playoff hockey in November,” said the GM and head coach of the Nanaimo Clippers.

“This is definitely not typical.”

The Clippers defeated the Alberni Valley Bulldogs 8-2 in the B.C. Hockey League Island Cup semifinal game Monday night at The Q Centre as the Clippers advanced to meet the Victoria Grizzlies tonight at 7 in the Cup final at the Colwood facility. No fans are allowed in the rink.

The Island Cup is the extended preseason tournament ahead of the tentative start to the 32-game BCHL regular season next month. The Grizzlies finished the round-robin portion as the first seed at 8-3-3, the Clippers the second seed at 9-5 and the Bulldogs the third seed at 6-6-2. “These are three quality clubs that have been pretty evenly balanced with each game close throughout the round-robin,” said Naylor, before guiding his charges into the semifinal fixture.

Not that it has been an exact science. The Cowichan Valley Capitals (2-5-1) didn’t have an even ice sheet in the tournament, having played only eight games to the 14 each played by Victoria, Nanaimo and Alberni Valley. The Powell River Kings, the fifth team in the Island Division, didn’t play any games at all. The Capitals and Kings were set to play six consecutive games against each other before they were called off due to Powell River being located in the Vancouver Coastal region and subject to the current two-week shutdown of indoor activities in that jurisdiction.

That’s hockey in the COVID era. It’s not quite equitable for all. Those fortunate enough to be playing are appreciative of it. Especially when one considers the entire BCHL Lower Mainland Division is in the midst of the two-week shutdown for indoor activities ordered by the provincial health officer for the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions. The Wenatchee Wild, on the wrong side of the closed Canada-U.S. border, have yet to play.

There have been school outbreaks in Nanaimo and on Monday, Nanaimo minor hockey said it was cancelling all play in its U-8 division after a player tested positive within that cohort.

The Clippers were able to keep playing because their players are being schooled online.

“That keeps us in line and in the bubble,” said Naylor.

The players on the Grizzlies, Clippers and Bulldogs realize they are lucky to be playing and are not taking it for granted.

“They know they are fortunate to even have an Island Cup exhibition season, with these playoffs, and that the owners have stepped up to have game play without revenues coming in,” said Grizzlies head coach and GM Craig Didmon.

“That’s why there is tremendous respect among all the teams in the Island Division for the tournament, the rules and the rivals. It’s been a great brand for the fans to follow and watch on Hockey TV.”

It has been abetted by several Western Hockey League players, freed by the major-junior league to join Junior A leagues until the tentative start of the WHL season Jan. 8. Forward Payton Mount and defenceman Luke Bateman from the Seattle Thunderbirds are playing for the Grizzlies. Blueliner and third-round Montreal Canadiens draft-pick Gianni Fairbrother of the Everett Silvertips is with the Clippers.

The Bulldogs also feature a notable addition, although not from major junior. NCAA Harvard-bound centre Ryan Tverberg, selected in the seventh round of this year’s NHL draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, was acquired late last month in a trade with the Toronto Junior Canadians of the Ontario Junior A Hockey League.

The Grizzlies’ explosive offence, meanwhile, was evidenced by the pair of NCAA-committed Victoria forwards who shared the BCHL preseason scoring title. Cody Monds and Alex DiPaolo, bound respectively for Providence College and Colgate, had 20 points along with fifth-round Buffalo Sabres 2020 NHL draft-pick Matteo Costantini of the Penticton Vees. Grizzlies rookie revelation Ellis Rickwood was alone in fourth with 19 points and Sean Donaldson of the Clippers tied for fifth with 17 points. Monds and Quinn Hutson of the Vees tied for the goals lead with 10 each.

The Vees are the top seed in the Interior Division Cup round-robin at 13-1.