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Plenty of optimism as Victoria Grizzlies look toward next season

Isack Bandu is one of several young players expected to return for the Grizzlies next season.
Photograph By DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Cleve Dheensaw / Times Colonist
MARCH 4, 2020 10:04 PM

The Victoria Grizzlies’ 2020 B.C. Hockey League post-season lasted only four games but staff is hoping that was enough of a smell for the young team to be hungry for more in the future.

“We have a lot of young guys who will be returning as veterans,” said GM and head coach Craig Didmon.

Chief among them is team leading scorer and BCHL rookie of the year runner-up Cody Monds, who is committed to Providence College of the NCAA the season after next.

The Interior Division third-seed Salmon Arm Silverbacks swept the Island Division fifth-seed Grizzlies 4-0 in their best-of-seven opening round BCHL playoff series. Three of the games were decided by one goal.

“It could have gone either way,” said forward Henri Schreifels, who was the Grizzlies’ leading goal scorer in the regular season.

Didmon saw much progress after a slow start to the season.

“We had a good push at the end of the regular season with a lot of development shown, and lessons learned, and that bodes well for next season,” he said.

Among the Grizzlies losses in terms of players moving on to the NCAA are captain Marty Westhaver to Alabama-Huntsville, Schreifels to Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, blue-liner James Davenport to Northeastern and goaltender Liam Souliere to Penn State. Also graduating is 20-year-old forward Trevor Bishop.

“That’s not a big turnover for this league,” added Didmon. “We have a good nucleus returning.”

That nucleus includes touted 18-year-old rookie forwards Chase McInnis, who’s committed to Northeastern for 2021, Brendan Bowie (St. Lawrence in 2021), and Andrew Amousse, along with defencemen Isack Bandu and Chace Oliver.

The Grizzlies may also see veteran forwards Vincent Nardone, who is a University of Nebraska-Omaha commit, and Alex DiPaolo return for their 20-year-old seasons.

Meanwhile, there will be no more cross-over series next year such as the one that featured Victoria and Salmon Arm.

With Cranbrook entering the BCHL for 2020-21, there will be balanced Coastal and Interior conferences of nine teams each. Divisions will be eliminated and the standings tabulated in terms of the two conferences. The top eight in each conference will make the playoffs. The end of the Island Division has its benefits, said Didmon.

“We’re excited by the change to a straight conference system,” he said.

“It will give our fans more variety,” by seeing conference-rival Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley teams more often during the course of a season.

© 2020 Copyright Times Colonist